Interviewer:

 Betsy Kalin

Camera:

 Natalie Tsui

Date:

 March 07, 2018

Location:

 Home Of Donna Burkett, Milwaukee, WI

Donna Burkett was born in 1946 at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, and moved to Milwaukee with her family at age eight. Her grandfather owned and operated Black King,Milwaukee’s first black sit-down restaurant and, by all accounts, the best barbeque joint in town.

Donna graduated high school, joined the Army, and returned to Milwaukee in 1970, whereupon she met Manonia Evans and fell in love. In 1971, the two women applied for a marriage license at the Milwaukee County Clerk’s office. Unsurprisingly, the county clerk turned them away – so Donna and Manonia filed a federal lawsuit. Although their lawsuit was ultimately unsuccessful, the argument they used – equal protection under the Constitution – was cited by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb more than 40 years later, when she overturned Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2014.

Meantime, Donna and Manonia still wanted to get married, so they invited 250 family and friends together on Christmas Day 1971 for a ceremony officiated by Joseph Feldhausen, a gay Russian Orthodox priest. The wedding was covered in the local press, and nationally in The Advocate and Jet magazine (which ran a six-page spread). The results of their newfound fame were not positive. The young couple’s friends shunned them. Donna lost her job, and Manonia got kicked out of school. Manonia’s father, a preacher, said he’d rather see his daughter dead than queer. The strain took its toll and eventually, Donna and Manonia split up.

In the years that followed, Donna worked at General Motors for over 20 years making catalytic converters. She also worked frequently as a DJ, and contributed her time and energy with Action Wisconsin, a gay rights group. In the early 2000s, she had a stroke which left her reliant on a motorized wheelchair to get around.

Among the many rewarding aspects of recording Donna’s story for OUTWORDS was the sheer joy and gratitude she expressed at being tracked down after all these years. She ended each phone call with the same words and cadence. “Bye…for now”.  Whether in this life or the next, we look forward to hanging out with warm, funny, humble Donna Burkett every chance we get.

 

 

Time Speakers Transcript Text
Donna Burkett: It was something I don't remember. I know it was only a year or two ago. They had that clip and that was the first time I had seen that clip.
Betsy Kalin: Wow. That's crazy. We're gonna get started. The first thing that I need from you is your name, your date of birth, and where you were born.
Donna Burkett: Now, say it now?
Betsy Kalin: Yep.
Donna Burkett: [00:00:30] Okay. My name is Jose Manas. No, no, just joking. Donna Burkett. I am, next week or whenever I will, I'm soon to be 72 years old. I was born March 22nd 1946 in Chicago Illinois at Cook County Hospital.
Betsy Kalin: Perfect.
Natalie Tsui: One second. I want to make one tiny adjustment.
Betsy Kalin: Okay. We're just adjusting the camera.
Donna Burkett: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Natalie Tsui: Hold on. Just one second.
Donna Burkett: [00:01:00] It doesn't matter if I keep my foot up here or not?
Betsy Kalin: It's not in.
Donna Burkett: Okay. Good. So I ...
Betsy Kalin: You can do whatever-
Donna Burkett: I like to straighten it out sometimes.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah, that's fine.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, that's fine. It's not in the shot. Just getting the focus one more time. Great. We're still speeding.
Betsy Kalin: Okay, great. Donna, why don't you tell me a little bit about your childhood? What it was like and about when you were in Chicago?
Donna Burkett: [00:01:30] [00:02:00] Oh, I really, I was raised here in Milwaukee. I came to Milwaukee when I was about... My mom and my family we moved here when I was about eight or nine, something like that. Most of my childhood or what I remember is here in Milwaukee. Been here all my life, just about. As a kid, I was a kid, running and playing, not like the kids today. We didn't drive cars, we rode bicycles. I don't need that in there, do I? No, because these are so different times now. I was a kid that played on the playground, I used to play marbles. All the games were running games, you know?
Betsy Kalin: I heard you like sports.
Donna Burkett: [00:02:30] [00:03:00] [00:03:30] Yes, I did. I played softball until... First I played, I started playing basketball in high school, junior high, but we only played females, girls. We only played against different schools, but it wasn't organized like it is now. Then when I got too old, when the 18 year olds started running me to death then I said, "Well, I can't play basketball anymore." I was about, oh I don't know, maybe about, I don't know, 35, 40, something like that. Then I started really just playing softball. I played softball. Oh, we had... That was pretty well organized. Used to play in tournaments. In fact once we won here and then we got invited to the world's tournament in Las Vegas. They flew us there. We lost right off, but it was a good experience.
[00:04:00] Then I had some back surgery. I couldn't play softball anymore so then I started shooting pool. I played pool here in Milwaukee. It's a real organized women pool leagues. We used to play like every, just about every night of the week there were tavern leagues. I played pool until I had my stroke, and then that paralyzed the left of my body. I still shot one season with one hand and then they started complaining about how long it takes because you have to get your balance and all of that. I quit playing pool in '05, so since then, I've been pretty much not doing anything.
Betsy Kalin: [00:04:30] Did you when you were playing... Oh, there's, I don't know-
Natalie Tsui: Is it the fridge?
Betsy Kalin: No, it's something outside.
Natalie Tsui: Oh, okay. Is the fridge on?
Donna Burkett: Hm?
Betsy Kalin: The refrigerator's on, I can turn it-
Natalie Tsui: And speed.
Betsy Kalin: Donna the leagues that you're talking about for softball and for pool, were those lesbian leagues? Or were they just women's leagues.
Donna Burkett: [00:05:00] Just women. They are not many, well, they are not women out here in Milwaukee. I mean that I know of or back then when I was playing pool and softball. In fact, there was just very few.
Betsy Kalin: Wow.
Donna Burkett: [00:05:30] Yeah, very few. I was. They used to, I could hear them, because we used to fill up the park because we played real ball. We didn't, we played ball to win. Some of the people up in the stands they would holler out and call you names and stuff. I'd come up to bat I was... They'd say, "Oh, you look like a man. Let me see you hit the ball like a man." I hit like three hops to the shortstop. Phew. That was enough to get me to first, you know? It didn't bother me really, I was used to it by then, the name calling I mean.
Betsy Kalin: [00:06:00] When you were growing up, did you have siblings? What did your mom and dad do?
Donna Burkett: I have one sister. My sister and I were really-
Betsy Kalin: Hold on one second.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah. What is that sound?
Donna Burkett: Oh, I hear that tapping. I don't know what that is.
Natalie Tsui: Sounds like dripping.
Betsy Kalin: Oh my gosh, I don't know.
Donna Burkett: [00:06:30] It's over here somewhere. I don't know, is the water off in the sink?
Natalie Tsui: It's in the wall.
Betsy Kalin: It's inside-
Donna Burkett: Then that must be my neighbor's next door doing something or another.
Betsy Kalin: It's gone.
Natalie Tsui: Oh, okay, cool. Problem solved. Great.
Donna Burkett: Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: Okay, let's start again. Tell me about your family?
Donna Burkett: [00:07:00] [00:07:30] [00:08:00] Okay. I grew up with my mother, my sister. I have one sister. My aunts, and uncle, and my grandfather. We have no family... My mom was not married, we had no dad in the house. Our grandfather was our father, so to speak. He was never home because he ran, he had a restaurant, very popular here in Milwaukee. People that have been in Milwaukee since the 50's they remember his restaurant. My mom, she was not at home a lot with my sister and I because she worked for her daddy like the rest of his kids did.
[00:08:30] [00:09:00] [00:09:30] My sister and I were really left off to sort of raise ourselves in a way. My mom, she only had one day a week off from work. That was on a Wednesday and that one day she taught us to look out for each other. We still do that to this day. She always used to tell us, "If you need something, you go to your sister and ask her for it. If she doesn't have it, I mean if she has it then she's gonna give it to you even if it's her last. On the other hand, if you don't need it, don't ask for it." That's the way we grew up. We're still like that. We're very close today still. We look out for each other. We talk every day on the phone. She comes by here a few times a week and help me out. Her kids, she has kids now. Her kids are not kids anymore. They're grown. In fact, I got to throw this in. My youngest niece just got her PhD, we so proud of her. Yeah. She has four children, four nearly senior citizens now they are.
[00:10:00] [00:10:30] Anyways, so that's my family. We all work together. I mean, we love each other. We act like it. It's not just a word, you know? If anybody needs anything they'll... If we can get it out of them, they'll say something. We all try to stand on our own and do what we can. We try not to bother each other since we're so few, we're not a large family, but if we need something, we all hanging in there together. That's about it for my family. I didn't have any problems with my mother growing up. When I was, I guess when I was about, oh, 13, 14, 15, she told me, my mom told me I should start trying to not be so rough and tomboyish. I should start trying to do other things instead of running and playing and fighting and all of that I should try to... I wasn't thinking about her, about that anyway. I was just me.
[00:11:00] She never downed me when I was got older like in my late teens and things like that. She told me that whatever I decide I'm gonna be, she said, "Baby, you just be the best." That's what she told me. I was probably about, I don't know. I can't remember exactly. It was a long time ago, I was probably about 18, 19 somewhere.
[00:11:30] [00:12:00] [00:12:30] She was always with me, no matter what. I used to take her out sometimes. We'd go out to the gay bars together. She'd just love the light, I'd turn around, and she was up there on the dance floor dancing by herself. We went one time, we went over to Chicago and got her mom, my grandmother, and then my girl at the time, her mom, and my sister and her boyfriend. We all went to, I took them to a gay bar, right? Soon as they walked in there was this guy dancing right in, up on the stage, right? As soon as you open the door you can see it. My mom, my grandmother, and my girl's mother, they just got flabbergasted. They stopped right there. I told the bartender, "Whatever they wanted to drink just keep the glasses full, and I'll straighten them out at the end of the night," because I was a regular. They knew me there. They had a good time, they really did; they had a good time.
[00:13:00] [00:13:30] My mom, she knew a lot of my friends, a lot of my gay friends, a lot of the guys. She was just okay, you know? I didn't have those problems that some people do have about coming out and keeping it a secret from your family. I do have a funny little story, when Manonia and I we used to... My little niece used to, couldn't pronounce her name, so she used to call her Romeo because she couldn't say Manonia. We went over to Chicago, so I could tell when we were planning to, when they started with the newspapers and stuff. I went over, we went over to Chicago to tell my family, right? We called a family meeting over there, so all my aunts, my grandmother, everybody was there. Then when I told them that I said, "I'm getting ready to get married.
[00:14:00] [00:14:30] Then my uncle, he was the spokesman. Nobody said nothing, at first, my uncle said, "Well Donna, may I ask the name of the person you're going to marry?" I said, I knew right then he knew something was up. I said, "That's her right there." Then my grandmother said, "Well, I'm not going to be a part of it. I'm not going. I'm not this. I'm not that." I told her, I said, "Mother," I said, "You ain't got to be a part of it. You ain't got to do nothing. I'm telling you what I'm getting ready to do, if you don't want me around you then I won't come around you anymore. I'm still the same but if you don't want to be bothered with me then you don't have to be." That was the end of that. One of my aunts was singing the same story, so I said "All y'all, I ain't got to see none of you all anymore." That's exactly what I said. I remember that.
[00:15:00] [00:15:30] They all came around, eventually, they all came around. After that, they didn't treat me any different. Whenever they came to Milwaukee they come see me and whenever I go to Chicago I come over and spend time with them. It was the same, so they didn't... That was it. That was the only incident with my family. After that, no more questions. They accepted whoever I brought around, no questions; no acting crazy towards them, no saying stupid things, if they had them in their heart they kept it in their heart it didn't come out, so that was my family.
[00:16:00] [00:16:30] I appreciate that from them. Most of them ain't here no more, but I just had, they didn't give me a hard time. Wherever I went, and if whoever I was with, my family always knew. See I always wanted my family to know what I'm doing so if anything happens to me they kind of have a clue to who I might be around or what I might do. So they couldn't say, "Well, they found her in the alley shot up full of drugs." They wouldn't accept that because they know, I might have smoked a little bit of stuff, but they know I didn't shoot nothing. They had to know, I always let them know what I was doing so.
Betsy Kalin: When did you know that you were gay?
Donna Burkett: [00:17:00] [00:17:30] Oh, I always knew it. I knew it. I always knew it. I knew it when I was a little kid. I knew it because I always was attracted to women. I always knew it. I always knew it. I remember when I was like, I don't know, I'd say probably in the one numbers, you know? One, two, three, four, single numbers, so under 10. I remember I'd be outside playing and this lady used to walk down the street. I know she was on her way to work. She would walk real sassy like and she used to smell so good. I used to just run and play in front of her, get all in her way like, "Get out of the way, kid." I always knew it. She was just so pretty to me, you know? I always knew it. I knew it before you know what people are supposed to do. Then I knew it, and the kids knew it too. When I was a kid, they knew it because I had to fight about every boy in the neighborhood so they'd leave me and my sister alone. I had to beat their butts, you know?
[00:18:00] [00:18:30] Then I said, "I was like the leader of the neighborhood." They come get me, "Let's go do this. Let's go do that." We'd be jumping off of roofs, garage roofs. We had, there was an alley and every yard in the alley had a fruit tree. We used to call that, "Paradise Alley," because we'd go get our little brown bags, and we'd go rob the fruit trees. I mean, that's what we did as kids for fun. We'd have throw them little cranberry, cran apples, them little apples when they was really little we used to throw them at each... I mean, just have fun, kid stuff.
[00:19:00] We didn't think about driving cars. Our parents didn't even hardly have cars then. We walked everywhere we used to go or we'd ride bikes if we had bikes, you know? We just did kid things, throw rocks, pebbles at windows. Throw eggs at the guy at the gas station across the street. We'd go, be across the street, go to the store, get a bunch of eggs and just bombard his station with eggs. He'd take off. He'd get mad and take off after them. Then we'd run, that was fun stuff for us. We did kid stuff.
Betsy Kalin: Did you get made fun of because you were a tomboy or did they-
Donna Burkett: [00:19:30] [00:20:00] Well, sometimes they did as a kid, I'd be walking down the street coming home from the playground by myself and people be sitting on their porch. That really, I didn't know what it was but the way they would said, they used to call me and say, "Look at that little bulldagger." I'm like, "What the ..." I didn't know what it was but I knew it was something I did not want to be from the way they said it. They said it so bad, you know? It was something I didn't want to be, but I didn't know what it was so I just... Later on I found out what it was and what they was inferring, you know? Yeah, they said, they used to call me names. So what? They wouldn't call me no names to my face otherwise we got to box. We did. We'd have to fight. I couldn't take that name calling.
Betsy Kalin: When did you leave home?
Donna Burkett: [00:20:30] Oh, I left home, I was probably — before I graduated from high school. I lived next door. I lived next door most of the time with my friends and her, in their house with her parents. I lived there for a while but first I lived in my uncle, my uncle-
Betsy Kalin: Sorry, we're gonna just stop for a second. There was a truck that went by.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: We just, we can hear it.
Donna Burkett: Oh, really?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: [00:21:00] That's a really noisy muffler.
Donna Burkett: Yes, some of them do. Wait until them bikes start up. They got a motorcycle club down there on the corner.
Betsy Kalin: No, not today.
Donna Burkett: Yeah.
Natalie Tsui: Actually since we're waiting for this car [crosstalk 00:21:19] a little bit lower than her. I was wondering if you could sit on those blankets.
Betsy Kalin: Oh, yeah.
Natalie Tsui: So that you can be a little bit higher.
Betsy Kalin: Of, course.
Natalie Tsui: The island isn't .... Since she's wearing glasses it's not super obvious but-
Donna Burkett: You know what?
Natalie Tsui: [00:21:30] Just don't let off as much as you can. How about-
Betsy Kalin: There.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah. Great. Thank you.
Betsy Kalin: She's making fun of my height.
Donna Burkett: Oh.
Natalie Tsui: We're the same height.
Donna Burkett: Oh, okay.
Natalie Tsui: Okay.
Betsy Kalin: We're both like five feet tall.
Donna Burkett: Oh, okay.
Natalie Tsui: We're ready to start [crosstalk 00:21:44].
Betsy Kalin: How's that?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, that's, there your out-
Betsy Kalin: Let me put my hair back. Okay, so tell me again when you moved out.
Donna Burkett: [00:22:00] [00:22:30] Well, I used to run away a lot because when my mom stopped working she put curfews on us. See, me and my sister, we used to be all over the city because see my mom if I run home from grade school I could catch her walking up the alley on her way to work. She worked until my grandfather ran, he ran, he had a restaurant, he owned a restaurant, until he ran out of barbecue. She'd get home. I don't know whenever they ran out two, three, four o'clock in the morning. She had one day a week off, you know? Me and my sister we'd be all over the city. We'd be everywhere. His restaurant was on 14th and North Avenue. The first one was down on Haymarket. It burnt down then he opened up... My grandfather, can I plug his name?
Betsy Kalin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Donna Burkett: [00:23:00] [00:23:30] He called himself, "Black King." He said he was a black man and he was going to be the king of barbecue and he was. He had the first black sit down restaurant in Milwaukee. Sit down, dine in. He had clocks, all different types of clocks all up the wall and on the ceiling. We'd be down at, my sister and I, we'd sneak, we'd come home we'd have to go ... We used to go to skating rink and that was down on the East side on North Avenue. It was called Riverview. When we'd go past the restaurant we used to wait until the cars be going past and then we'd run real fast, just in case our mother would be working by the window. We didn't want her to see us.
[00:24:00] We'd be up at the skating rink. We used to be at this, there used to be this dance hall on 12th and North called a, "Wonderland." It used to cost a quarter to get in, we used to be up there. Dance, all they did was dance. James Brown used to be up there every weekend, he'd be up there. It was only a quarter to go see him then. He wasn't real famous then. We'd be all over where we weren't supposed to be at none of them places but we would be.
[00:24:30] [00:25:00] We'd get home and sometimes in the summer, we'd be sitting on the front porch, my sister and I and then when the cars would be turning the corner coming down 18th Street that's where we lived. I knew the cars by their headlights. I could tell if it was a Ford, if it was a Chevy, whatever kind of car it was. We used to sit up there and do that all the time. I'd say, "Okay sis, here comes dad." That's my grandfather. We'd run in the house, hop in the bed, get under, pull the covers over our head. When mom would come in, the first thing she'd do she'd come in the room and she'd see the covers over our head. She'd say, "Donna. Lynn." We ain't saying nothing. Then she'd go on back in the kitchen. They would sit down her and her sisters and my grandfather. They would sit down at the kitchen table and talk. Me and my sister would be in the room listening, you know? They'd be talking about stuff. We didn't know half the stuff they talking about, but that's the way we did as kids.
Betsy Kalin: [00:25:30] When did you join the army? What was that like?
Donna Burkett: Oh, the army was horrible. That was the worst three years of my life. I joined the army in '60 something.
Betsy Kalin: Okay, we got to stop. One second.
Donna Burkett: Okay. My foot fell off the thing.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah.
Donna Burkett: Did I hit it?
Betsy Kalin: You want to put-
Donna Burkett: [00:26:00] Yeah just, maybe I just put that thing up and leave it on the floor. See I can't, I lose track of where it is and it'll just fall off. It'll keep doing it. Let me sit back in the chair. How about that? Leave the foot on the floor. How's that?
Betsy Kalin: Is it still on the stand?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah.
Donna Burkett: Is that okay?
Natalie Tsui: Let's just pan the stand.
Donna Burkett: Huh?
Natalie Tsui: I just have to twist the stand.
Donna Burkett: Oh.
Natalie Tsui: [crosstalk 00:26:19].
Donna Burkett: Yeah, but I'm sorry. Yeah, I didn't even, see there's little, very little feeling on this side of my body. I didn't even know it was to the edge.
Natalie Tsui: That's great.
Betsy Kalin: That's [crosstalk 00:26:28].
Natalie Tsui: [00:26:30] It barely moved.
Donna Burkett: Okay.
Natalie Tsui: I'll let you just twist it.
Donna Burkett: [00:26:31] Okay.
Betsy Kalin: Oh you did?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, so just twist it towards her.
Betsy Kalin: There we go.
Natalie Tsui: It's still out and she's looking good.
Betsy Kalin: Okay, great. Yeah.
Donna Burkett: [00:27:00] Okay. Yeah, I joined the army. I don't know when I joined. I know when I came home though. I joined in '60-some. See I got out of high school, I graduated from high school in '64, January '64. I joined the army. I tried to join before I graduated from high school but my mom had to sign for me and she wouldn't. I waited until I got old enough where I ain't need her to sign for me. I think I must have joined about '67 or somewhere around in there, '67, '68. I don't really remember, but I know I came home in '70.
Betsy Kalin: What was it like?
Donna Burkett: [00:27:30] [00:28:00] See when I signed up for the military, oh, I just wanted to go off and see the world and all that kind of stuff. I was supposed to go to Fort Bend Indiana for my... I had signed up to become some kind of accountant. I forgot the whole thing but it was some kind of accountant, and I was supposed to go to Fort Bend.
[00:28:30] [00:29:00] They sent me to Alabama where that George Wallace was the Governor at that time. Now I, I don't watch, Kennedy sent them troops down there. That's when all these Civil Rights stuff was going on. I remember seeing this man in front of this school talking that crap. Then the captain of them troops said, "Ready, set, and aim," and then he come running his little butt from in front of them doors to let them little black kids in that school. That's where they sent me. I said, when I got there I said, "Oh Lord, I know I'm gonna die down here. I know I'm going to die. They're gonna find me in one of these swamps right on this post." They sent me to Fort McClellan, that's in Anniston Alabama. I had never been no further South than the South Side of Chicago and there's where they were.
[00:29:30] [00:30:00] See when here before I went to the army, I had marched with, for Open Housing. The right, if your money lets you, then you can live anywhere you want to live that was the Open Housing bill. That was Father Groppi, Vel Phillips, they were in the front. Then behind them were the commandos, then behind them, all of us. Everybody else, you know? We marched that whole summer, all over the place. Maier was the Mayor because we marched to his house one time. They throwed bricks at us when we got to 21st and North. They had a crowd on the other side of the street throwing bricks at us. One landed right at my feet. They didn't hit anybody. I picked it up, I throwed it right across the street, right? That's when the police bomb rushed us.
[00:30:30] They gonna do what I don't know what they were gonna do but we ran too, but I got caught. This guy caught me in the alley. I cut across this playground. He caught me in the alley and body-slammed me on the hood of his car. I said to him, "Why you doing this to me? You black too? I'm marching for you too. What is your problem?" He went on to become some kind of big wig here in Milwaukee, but he never had my respect because he didn't have no ...
[00:31:00] [00:31:30] Anyway, we did the marching here. When we marched across that 16th Street bridge I'll never forget that one either. When we got almost to the end of the bridge, we could see a bunch of people lined up like they had, I don't know. They didn't have no guns or anything but I thought they did. They in front of this, there was a gun shop, the name of it was, "Casanova." It was right at the corner of, it was on 16th and whatever across the street from National. I think it was, right, it could have been because it wasn't quite to the end of the bridge but I could see the name of that building, "Casanova." That's the name of a lover and all that. Hate was lined up in front of it. But anyway nothing happened, but I thought we was going to die then too, but nothing happened so we came on home.
[00:32:00] Then that's after that, after the marching was all done, that's when I joined the army, if I had been thinking I should of joined the air force. That's where I should have went so I could drive a plane. I can drive anything. I've driven every kind of vehicle except for a train, or a plane, or a ship. You don't drive a ship but anyway. Them big-wheelers, I drove a truck, my truck had 25 gears in it.
[00:32:30] [00:33:00] When I first tried to join the military, when my recruiter took me down every day I passed everything except for the physical. I didn't weigh enough. I was really little. I was a little kid. He said, "Don't worry about it." He picked me up in about another week or something all the way to the station to get weighed in again. He fed me bananas and beer. When I got there, hit them scales I was like two pounds overweight, I mean past the minimum. Past the minimum so I got, so that's how I got in, bananas and beer. I got some bananas over there on the corner and beer in the refrigerator. But anyway, yeah.
Betsy Kalin: What was it like in Alabama? Did you really experience a lot of racism?
Donna Burkett: [00:33:30] [00:34:00] [00:34:30] Oh yes. Oh, it was horrible. It was horrible! I never have been exposed to it like that. I mean just even the people in the military, I was getting it from both sides. See there's another person that was in the army around that time, her name is... Can I say it? Miriam Ben-Shalom. Now they tried to kick her out because she was gay. Back then you didn't have the gay and the lesbian, everybody was just gay; if you was homosexual you were gay that was all it was. They tried to kick her out because she was gay, and she fought them. She admitted that she was, and she didn't give... that's what, then that's how they kick you out because you admit it. Now they wanted to kick me out too, but I told them you better have some proof when you talk. See I know now I'm at Alabama, they already don't like me because I won't say Sir and Ma'am because I call them by their rank because I have to say it. Anyway because-
Betsy Kalin: We're just gonna stop for one second. There's a motorcycle.
Donna Burkett: Yeah, I heard that motor that time. That was a-
Natalie Tsui: There's like three cars.
Betsy Kalin: I think we're just gonna have to-
Natalie Tsui: Go with that, yeah.
Betsy Kalin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Natalie Tsui: If it gets really loud I'll-
Betsy Kalin: That's what I mean. If it's really loud just stop me, like that one. Okay, talk again about how-
Donna Burkett: [00:35:00] [00:35:30] [00:36:00] Oh yeah, when they try to kick me out of the military, but see then you could not be gay and in the military. You couldn't say it. If you didn't fight, if you didn't have no fire in you, they could think it and you didn't have to be. But if they say it and you didn't have enough gumption to fight them, they'd kick you out anyway, you know? When they kick you out you're messed up for the rest of your life. You get a dishonorable discharge, you know? Just for who you love. You know what? Anyway, that's what they used to do and it was rough, you know? See when you get off duty, when you get off duty you do what you want to do. You live either in the barracks or you have, get your own apartment off post, you know? But you do what you want to do, you know? If they, they the army and I imagine all of the armed forces were probably the same, If one could do it then all the rest of it probably doing it too.
[00:36:30] [00:37:00] Anyway if they thought, if they didn't like you they could say anything. I believe this is still true, but since now, except when we got this... whatever he is, I'm so glad I don't have to serve under this man now. See he know about as much about running something as I do about running him. I think the world thinking is changing, people are changing, you know? Now you don't have to live under a little cage or a glass bubble, you don't have to live like that. You don't have to keep all the things that you feel about, you don't have to keep that inside no more. You could just let it out. Most of the time people accept you now. It ain't always been like that.
[00:37:30] [00:38:00] [00:38:30] People, the young people of today, y'all just don't know how good you got it. Everything is given to you but there's still plenty of battles for y'all to be fighting. Trust me, there's plenty of battles, but you got so much like we had so much. We didn't know. We didn't realize what we had either when we were younger. But we did have belief. We had beliefs in what you are and who you are, and people fought for them. People are still fighting, and that's how this country was founded because we saw so much wrong being done, so we all got together and started up a new country, you know? Now the country is fighting among itself, this is off the subject, so I get like that I get, because I get carried away because you still so much injustice being done. I guess as long as everybody is different it'll never be, we'll never be all on one accord, which we need to be somewhere. I don't know, I'm all confused, so why ask me? I don't know. I'm not running anything. I'm barely trying to make it run myself, you know?
Betsy Kalin: Well, what was it like for you because when you're in the South you're faced with double oppression.
Donna Burkett: Yes.
Betsy Kalin: You're black and you're gay.
Donna Burkett: That's right.
Betsy Kalin: [00:39:00] Can you say that?
Donna Burkett: [00:39:30] Yes, I can say that and I agree with that then but I don't know how it is ... But I tell you that South got me so worked up. A friend, I just talked to a friend of mine yesterday, she lives in Atlanta. She said, "I'm gonna send for you pretty soon and you can come visit me." I told her, "Thank you, but no thanks." Those two or three years I spent in Alabama I don't want to go anywhere close to the South and I have not been there and even on a free invite, I don't even want to go.
[00:40:00] [00:40:30] I know it's different because I've talked to people that's in the military or went in after I've come home. It is different, but it's still a lot of mess in there. It's gonna be even more; and here I go with my political style, you can't ask me certain questions because I start getting political. See as long as you got this guy up there that's in the White House now, it's gonna be a mess. Now he's trying, now he over here throwing all these key cues out to this little young boy-man over here that's just as stupid as he is. You got an old fool and you got a young fool and they gonna at each other like little kids. You called me a name, now I'm gonna call you a name, you said this about me. You know we did that when we were kids. He's a grown man running the strongest country in this world that we know of and he calling somebody another leader of another country out of their name. I mean, how dumb can that be?
Betsy Kalin: [00:41:00] I mean, that's really dumb. We're gonna stop for one second because there's a plane.
Donna Burkett: Yeah, how dumb can that be? I can't get over this guy. I don't know how he got in there. I'm so glad I ain't in the military now.
Betsy Kalin: When... Was it still going?
Natalie Tsui: There's a lot of noise. I think it's gone.
Betsy Kalin: [00:41:30] Okay. When you got back how ... You were part of something called the GPU?
Donna Burkett: Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: Can you talk about what that is and what that stands for?
Donna Burkett: That was Gay People's Union.
Betsy Kalin: Is there still something?
Donna Burkett: No. They got-
Natalie Tsui: That was just your hair. That was your hair.
Betsy Kalin: Oh, my hair. Okay.
Natalie Tsui: You have to-
Betsy Kalin: I'm sorry.
Donna Burkett: Oh.
Betsy Kalin: Can we start over? And tell me what is GPU?
Donna Burkett: [00:42:00] GPU was Gay People's Union. That's what it stood for. It was a gay not, a gay... What do you call it? A gay organization. It was so bad here in the Milwaukee, that's all I can speak of because that's the only place, this is the only place that I really know. Like the guys-
Betsy Kalin: That was a terrible [crosstalk 00:42:27].
Natalie Tsui: [00:42:30] It was a really loud one. I also realized that the mic cord moved. I think wind.
Betsy Kalin: Oh.
Natalie Tsui: You can see it. I think it might have moved.
Betsy Kalin: I see it.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: We got to fix your mic cord.
Donna Burkett: Okay.
Betsy Kalin: Then we'll go back to the gay people's union.
Donna Burkett: Okay.
Natalie Tsui: I'm just going to tape it down so it can't move. Hold on one second.
Donna Burkett: There was some-
Betsy Kalin: Do you need something to drink now?
Donna Burkett: No, I'm good.
Betsy Kalin: You're good?
Donna Burkett: I'm still good.
Betsy Kalin: Okay.
Donna Burkett: But that was-
Betsy Kalin: This is going great, Donna.
Donna Burkett: It is?
Betsy Kalin: Yes.
Donna Burkett: [00:43:00] I started to get me a beer to loosen me up, but I didn't.
Betsy Kalin: You didn't? You're doing great.
Natalie Tsui: Maybe afterwards.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah.
Donna Burkett: Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: Afterwards to celebrate.
Natalie Tsui: Celebrate.
Donna Burkett: Okay.
Natalie Tsui: This is the last interview.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah, this is our last interview before we go home.
Donna Burkett: Oh, really. Okay.
Betsy Kalin: We were looking forward to it.
Donna Burkett: Okay.
Betsy Kalin: No, we were looking forward to your interview, not necessarily going home.
Donna Burkett: Yeah. Okay.
Natalie Tsui: [crosstalk 00:43:24]
Betsy Kalin: Are we ready?
Donna Burkett: [00:43:30] Gay People's Union was a gay organization that was for and that was-
Betsy Kalin: I'm sorry, now we have a bell.
Natalie Tsui: It sounds like a church bell, yeah.
Donna Burkett: You said a church bell?
Natalie Tsui: Or like-
Betsy Kalin: Some bells are going off at six o'clock.
Donna Burkett: Oh, really? I don't hear anything but the ticking of a clock.
Betsy Kalin: They're gone.
Natalie Tsui: Now it's gone, yeah. But I wonder if that clock, where is that clock?
Donna Burkett: Your-
Betsy Kalin: [00:44:00] That clock is right over here.
Natalie Tsui: Is it that one on the wall?
Betsy Kalin: Yeah, it is. It's the one [crosstalk 00:44:05].
Donna Burkett: Really? I never heard it-
Natalie Tsui: Can we take the battery out of it?
Donna Burkett: Sure you-
Natalie Tsui: Might as well.
Betsy Kalin: What you should do is put it in the bedroom and put a pillow over it.
Natalie Tsui: Okay.
Betsy Kalin: That's what I do with clocks.
Donna Burkett: Okay.
Natalie Tsui: I'll just put it under the sheets. Okay.
Betsy Kalin: That's better. I don't hear it.
Donna Burkett: Okay.
Natalie Tsui: [00:44:30] Great. If you lean back, we're good. Good.
Donna Burkett: All right.
Natalie Tsui: Go ahead.
Betsy Kalin: Gay People's Union.
Donna Burkett: [00:45:00] Gay People's Union was an organization, GPU. I don't know who founded it. I just know that Eldon Murray was the, I'm gonna say ring leader then, you know? I don't know, he might have been the one who founded... I'm not sure. It was a gay organization and Milwaukee was so bad, here it was so ... Gay people, you couldn't, gay people... well first of all it was against the law to be gay. It really was and I think it was Governor Pat Lucey, his first thing.
Betsy Kalin: [00:45:30] Oh, my God.
Donna Burkett: It sound like a train.
Betsy Kalin: That was a horn.
Donna Burkett: That was a horn. Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: You can go back to it was illegal to be gay.
Donna Burkett: [00:46:00] [00:46:30] Yeah, it was illegal to be gay here in Milwaukee. The gay guys could only come out in drag on Halloween and not get arrested. Gay People's Union, GPU, if somebody got arrested for being gay they had a list, and they used to call all us all up and we would flood the courthouse, the courtroom where they were ... When we got done being so loud they'd just throw out everybody. They'd throw everybody out the courtroom and throw out the charges. That's what we used to do. That was back in the, when was that? See I get all the years mixed up because I got a lot years on me now. I don't know if it was in, I think it was the '60's. I'm not sure though. It could have been in the early '70's but I believe it was in the '60s.
[00:47:00] [00:47:30] Pat Lucey, the first thing I'm pretty sure when he got elected governor, the first thing he did was sign the bill for... I call it the Gay Rights bill that is consenting adults, that was the bill; consenting adults. Whatever happens between consenting adults is no longer the government's business. That same reason is why I tried to get married here because I never did feel like the government has no business telling you, me, or anybody else who you can marry, who you can love. That ain't their business and that was the reason behind the marriage try.
Betsy Kalin: That's great.
Natalie Tsui: There was a car noise.
Donna Burkett: There was a car.
Betsy Kalin: I know, but we're gonna push through it. We're gonna keep going. Tell me, you decided to get married. How did you two first meet?
Donna Burkett: [00:48:00] [00:48:30] [00:49:00] I don't remember. I really don't remember. The first meeting, all I remember is I think I asked her to meet me at this bar. We had met somewhere, I don't really remember. When I came in the bar and I didn't see her so I walked back by the pool table. Then she came up and she said, "You ain't even going to speak to me." I looked, I said, "I didn't even recognize you." She looked all different. She had put on a little make up and stuff like ... Anyway, that's how, that's my remembrance it might not be quite right but just what I remember. I can't remember a whole lot about those days because they were kind of traumatic. She was in college, she was going to UW. I was messing around over here at MATC. Well it used to be called MIT at that time, Milwaukee Institute of Technology. When they had a bigger MIT Massachusetts, then they changed it to what it is now, MATC, Milwaukee Area Technical College.
[00:49:30] [00:50:00] Anyway, so she was going to UW and I was messing around trying to work little, little jive jobs and going to school a little bit, you know? I don't really remember the whole thing how it came about. I just kind of remember all of a sudden, I don't remember all the details leading up to it. I remember the newspapers was coming out and they were talking to us. I remember at first we wouldn't show our face when they were asked for photographs from the back and side and all of that kind of stuff. Then I remember-
Betsy Kalin: Well what, so take us back a little bit. Why did you two decide to get married and then take us ... Where did you go? What did you try to do?
Donna Burkett: [00:50:30] [00:51:00] I'm trying to remember. I don't remember all of that. I remember for me, I remember I liked the idea because I felt the government ain't got no business telling me who I could marry, that ain't their business. I'm grown,and so is she. I remember that for me, but I guess it was the same for her because we were in it together. I think it was more about the cost than anything else, I really believe that. I remember a few things about ...
[00:51:30] [00:52:00] See my family was fine with it, they didn't care. We went over to Chicago to tell my family and they had a few objections, but that was about it. They went phew, so. That was the end of that. Her family, I didn't really know her family because her family wasn't like mine. Her father was a minister, and when I found out about him, he like kidnapped her. He told her when she came back because I didn't know where she was and I forgot, I don't know how long she was gone. She told me that he had a gun on her. He said he'd rather see her dead than to be marrying some woman. You could marry a drunk or a wino, well he didn't care as long as it was a man. That was the end of that episode. I never met her parents. I know she had one brother, I'm not sure if she had a sister or not but she kept... We lived together. She kept that part, that was over there, you know? Her family I didn't have to...
[00:52:30] [00:53:00] I do remember though before he found out, before we showed our faces in the newspapers. Her father gave a big, he was some kind of big wheel in Milwaukee, some kind of official head of something, I don't really know what he was the head of, but he was some head of something in the government. He gave this big dinner party this was, I'll never forget it, it was so much fun to me; he was introducing his daughter and his son-in-law to his work people. I mean I guess they were other big wheels, I don't know because he thought I was a guy. I weighed probably maybe 105, 10 pounds, and I used to look a little different, you know much younger, I was real thin. He had this big dinner party. I didn't say much but every now and then I'd have to say something and you know he was just running around.
[00:53:30] That's probably why he kidnapped her when he found out when we finally showed our faces and he found out it was his daughter because there was a mystery around here in Milwaukee. Who are these people? Who are these females? Who are they? Everybody wanted to know. When he found out, boy he was in a rage. After we did the ceremony, we lived with my sister.
Betsy Kalin: [00:54:00] Well go back, can you go back a little bit? So you applied to get-
Donna Burkett: [00:54:30] Oh yeah, that's right, we sure did. I forgot all about that, that's how that stuff started. When we went down to the courthouse or was it City Hall? We went down to one of those places to apply to get married. We was going to get married because that was what we were supposed to do when you want to get married, first you get the license and then you go get married. We went down there big dummies, we went down there to apply for our license and we did-
Betsy Kalin: One second.
Natalie Tsui: We should back up a little bit.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah, we need to go back to-
Natalie Tsui: This is very important.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. Just start with when you went down to the courthouse.
Donna Burkett: [00:55:00] [00:55:30] We went down to the courthouse to apply for our license because when you get married first you get a license then you go get married. So we went down there. I don't know where they came from but when we fill out the little card, whatever the little sheet of paper was. You know, you got your name, your address, sex, birthdate, all that kind of stuff. We filled it out, turned it in. Then the lady at the counter she went and, " Oh, my God." Then she walked off and she went and got somebody else and then they came over, right? Then they said, "Is this informational correct?" "Yeah, it's right. You don't think I know my name?" "Romeo," She said, "Yes, that's right." Then they went in some backroom and then somebody they came back out and they said, "You can't get married."
[00:56:00] [00:56:30] [00:57:00] You can't get, no. She said, "We can't give you a license." I'm like, "Why? We both old enough. We're over 18." Or if it was 21, I don't remember what the age thing was, then they keep going back and forth from 18 to 21, so whatever it was we were over that. Then we left and when we got out in the hallway to get in our car to go home than that's when all these reporters came. That's how they found out. They came and they was just snapping them pictures and then they start asking us a whole bunch of questions. I'm like, I look at them, I said, "Where are these people coming from? What is the big deal?" I didn't get it, I didn't understand. I really did not get it. That's how it took off, that's how the press got involved. Them people at the courthouse must have called they buddies or something. I don't know what they did but that's how it took off. They caught us right in the hallway and when we got outside they caught us, Then from then on, it was just people ...
[00:57:30] Some of our friends didn't even want to be around us no more. They said they didn't want their picture, and their name, and their jobs. This was a horrible place to be and be gay, back then, it really was. As Luther say, "It's over now." Yeah, so thank everybody for continuing the fight
Betsy Kalin: So you applied to get your marriage license?
Donna Burkett: Right.
Betsy Kalin: And you were turned down.
Donna Burkett: Right.
Betsy Kalin: Then what happened?
Donna Burkett: [00:58:00] [00:58:30] Then we were turned down and then, then I remember I don't know exactly the order of things. I don't remember, which came first but I know she got kicked out of school, they called me, the Dean called me at MATC or MIT and told me they was kicking me out of school and I said, "For what?" They said, "Because of your attendance." I said, "My attendance? Well, if I'm not, never here how do I know that you wanted me in your office? How you talking to me now?" But she got kicked out of school. I almost got kicked out of school, didn't make me any difference because she was going to UW, I was just going to the two year school.
[00:59:00] [00:59:30] I got some kind of little job. We had a rough time. We moved in with a couple guy friends until we could get back on our feet. I don't really remember a whole lot of stuff but I know it was rough though because even some of our friends started turning their backs on us. We wasn't asking for nothing, they didn't want to be around us because it seemed like every time we'd go somewhere then somebody from a newspaper wanting to pop up and take pictures and people, it was real bad. We'd go to funeral and then when the buses, the city buses go pass people, our friends talking about start running hiding behind trees talking about because they were bus drivers they didn't want nobody to see them. It was really bad here then. It really was because people really afraid to come out. I'm just so glad that stuff is not like that anymore. They talking about suicide, suicide would be crazy now, you know if it was still like that so I'm glad people change their thinking.
Betsy Kalin: It must have been hard to be... I mean you didn't even realize you were going to be such a pioneer.
Donna Burkett: [01:00:00] [01:00:30] No, I didn't. Doing something that you feel is natural, something that you feel you got the right to do. You do something and then it blows up some years later that you done did something great because you followed what you thought was right. It wasn't nothing great for neither one of us because that's what we thought we was supposed to do. We call ourselves out on the rules by going down and getting a license because that's the first step, you know? But anyways, so ...
Betsy Kalin: But you were the first lesbian couple or gay couple in the whole United States, right?
Donna Burkett: As far as I know, yeah, as far as I know. We still had fun. We still had a good time, you know?
Betsy Kalin: That was a loud one.
Donna Burkett: Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: [01:01:00] Why don't you tell me, now you did end up getting married.
Donna Burkett: [01:01:30] We had a ceremony. Yeah, we did. I don't think either one of us really realized what it really meant to be married. I really, honestly don't think either one of us know. Well I don't know what happened to her but I know soon after, all of a sudden somebody told me she was in Alaska. I believe that was her daddy. I put everything on him because he was such... I'm glad I wasn't none of his daughters. Thank you Lord. We, I probably wouldn't even be here now because we probably would have been at it. He was just such a head. He was such a mess.
Betsy Kalin: [01:02:00] Who married you and Manonia in the ceremony?
Donna Burkett: [01:02:30] [01:03:00] [01:03:30] Oh, I tell you Father Joseph Feldhausen, he married us. He married us. He was an Episcopal Priest. We had to go through, I forget how many months of counseling. We have to come to these meetings and that's about all. I don't remember what was going on with him, but I remember he told us we had to do this in order to get married. We went to these meetings, and he was always there. He was always there. We were free to talk to him about anything but we didn't tell him about her daddy. We just went on and made it the best we could make it, you know? We had a ceremony and then we had a reception. Still wasn't a lot of our friends there. They didn't want to come because they thought the newspapers were going to be there, but GPU was still with us. Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: That's a loud car.
Donna Burkett: Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: That's a muscle car.
Donna Burkett: Yeah. Where are the police when you want them?
Betsy Kalin: So you had a reception and who was at the reception?
Donna Burkett: [01:04:00] Not many people, mostly my family. They came in from Chicago, and the few that lived here. My family was here. We had a few friends but mostly everybody stayed away because they were afraid of the publicity.
[01:04:30] [01:05:00] After that like I said I don't remember how long we were together because all I remember is that she started missing being not ... She lost her job. I remember that she worked at a bank, she was a bank teller. That's what she, she did that all the time, and she was going to school part-time. She lost her job. I remember her daddy had gave her the car and he took that and we didn't know where the car was. We got ready to go somewhere and there wasn't no car out there. I believe he sent her off somewhere, I heard a friend of mine had told me a couple years later that she was in Alaska. I see why, he don't have to worry about me trying to get there. I haven't seen her since maybe about a year after, maybe we stayed together maybe about a year. It got really rough, but she was all for it then, she's different now.
[01:05:30] [01:06:00] [01:06:30] I was going through the obituaries, I see this guy's name in there, and I thought of her. It was her father. Because as I read the obituary I saw her first name but she's married now, to a guy. I imagine they probably got kids, and I don't know where they live, but her last name was different so, but that was her daddy. I started to go to the... And sit in the back of the church or something because it was inside a church. I knew that was her father because I saw her name and then I know her brother's name. I saw their name listed in the paper. I said, "Nah, you know that wouldn't be good for me to do that because she got a whole different life now and you know that was 30, 40 years ago so. I haven't seen her," I said, "I ain't trying to wreck nothing for anyone." So, I didn't go. They probably wouldn't have recognized me anyway. I done gained all this weight, so they probably wouldn't know. It didn't matter, I didn't go.
Betsy Kalin: So things with you and Manonia were really hard because of all the outside pressure?
Donna Burkett: [01:07:00] [01:07:30] Yeah. Yeah, it was good, we were good. We did the best we could do, but things kept falling apart. We didn't have any money, she got fired. She had a good, her job paid good but I guess the little things, I didn't have a good paying job, I worked in factories. They didn't pay that well and they were all ... It wasn't none of them had a future. Minimum wage or a little above it, it wasn't nothing much. It was enough. It kind of kept us together for a while. It fed us, we never went hungry. We always had a roof over our head thanks to friends and the few friends that did stick by us. These two guys, they really stuck by us.
[01:08:00] [01:08:30] I had some charge cards, and we used to go to the store and charge up our food on that, get food and bring it home to cook. We'd do, we made, buy stuff on the card and take it back and get the money to pay the rent. You know that kind of, we made it the best we could but I guess it was really just too much. We weren't strong enough together to fight through that, and whatever. It just wasn't meant to be then.
[01:09:00] [01:09:30] We did what we could do and that's with everything now and with everybody you do what you can do when you can do it. When that time is up when that season has passed, yep, you did it. Now you can't do it anymore. You just keep on to the next plateau or the next storm or whatever you want to call it. You keep onto the next, there's always going to be something in your life until they shove the dirt in your face that you can do and then that will pass, so nothing's permanent. You might find a relationship and you last a long time but then one day somebody's going to go home, so nothing's permanent not here on this earth so. You do what you can do, and you try to be the best that you can be. You treat people right, and you'll be okay. I mean you're going to have some rough times but you'll be okay. Your heart will be good. You just got to treat people right, that's it.
[01:10:00] You can't be trying to put your convictions or your... You can't live your life through somebody else. You can't be putting stuff on other people that you can't do yourself. You shouldn't be trying to change, because nobody can change anybody anyway. You can't even hardly change yourself so just... My friend used to tell me when I was real young, "Ain't you tired of ramming your head against that wall yet?" I be saying, "Nah, but when I get tired I guess I'll find me another wall or I will stop," and that's the way it is.
Betsy Kalin: That's great. Did you think, here you are in 1971, right? It was 1971.
Donna Burkett: Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: And you applied for a marriage license.
Donna Burkett: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Betsy Kalin: [01:10:30] Did you ever think that it would take this long to get marriage, same sex marriage?
Donna Burkett: [01:11:00] [01:11:30] Oh, I never thought it would happen to be honest. I never thought it would happen. After I got older and I started hearing how people felt, how they really felt and how they ostracized gay people. Even to this day I never thought it would happen. I'll tell ya when Obama said, no, when Clinton said something about, "Don't ask. Don't tell." I'm like, "He done crack the door open. He done crack the door. He done crack it. He done made it crack. Oh now, it's getting ready to blow up now." Yeah, that's what I said. Yeah, Clinton the one who said that, " Don't ask. Don't tell." I said, "Boy, you should have went the whole way and did it." Sometimes you just gotta take itty bitty baby steps. You just can't shh open the door all the way. You gotta take baby steps and somebody else open it a little further, that's when Obama came and opened it a little further.
[01:12:00] Now, we not going there, somebody trying to shut the door now. So we're not going back. That's the one thing, once it's opened it's not going back. We're not going back to the cornfields or the cotton fields or whatever field you came from, you're not going back there. You out here, you're out and you're gonna stay out. I don't think nobody once they got out and tasted freedom that they gonna go back into the closet. I just don't see that happening and I don't see people standing for it so.
Betsy Kalin: Can you just say that? There's was a plane.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: Can you just say that again, "That once the door is open," and what you just said.
Donna Burkett: [01:12:30] I don't know what, I forgot it. I don't know but-
Betsy Kalin: You said that, "We're not gonna go back in the closet."
Donna Burkett: [01:13:00] No, we're not going back in the closet. I mean see you be in, you been in that closet and it doesn't have to necessarily be a gay closet, but everyone got crap in the closet. Once you come out, whatever your thing is, once you come out you're not going back because the freedom that you feel now is out there, can't nobody hang, got nothing to hang over my head. They can't blackmail me. They can't, "If you don't do this then I'm..." Once you're out, you're out. Nobody goes back in. Once you, nobody goes back to jail. I mean nobody goes back to being tortured and they realize how it good. They're not going back in there.
[01:13:30] [01:14:00] That's how when you get these little puppies, okay? These little dogs, and you have your little dog house, or you keep them in the house. You take your animal out, and they run like their crazy because the freedom that they feel. They ain't, now you try to get them back. It's hard to get them dogs back and taking them back when you get them to the doorway they get to pulling, and you got to almost choke them to get the back in the house. Their freedom that you feel once you're free, you just not giving that up.
[01:14:30] That's what I thought America was about because freedom, freedom, free-dom. Not being in no closet. Gotta hide the way you feel, and you ain't even hurting nobody. That's the biggest thing about this. It's so stupid to me. I don't get it. It's not for everybody. What they say? It's only like 10% of the people that's gay, you know? That's not going to stop the population because 10%, you got 90% having babies. They having so many babies we got to take care of them. They can't even take care of them. Then you got 10% of the people that ain't having none. My goodness, so what else is it?
[01:15:00] [01:15:30] I mean it ain't for everybody. I mean if everybody was gay, so what? That's your personal choice. That ain't got nothing to do with you, Sally Jo, or you Ray Charles. It ain't got nothing to do with nobody but you. That's all. Just let people be happy doing what they want to do as long as they ain't hurting nobody. Who they hurting? You got two consenting adults. I ain't talking about kids now. We'll get into that at a later time, if you gay it's not something you can change anyway. There are a lot of gay kids and that's how we started out. We started out as kids.
Betsy Kalin: [crosstalk 01:15:43] to stop one second because there's a big plane.
Donna Burkett: Yeah.
Natalie Tsui: [crosstalk 01:15:46] loud sound.
Betsy Kalin: I think it's a small propeller plane. It's loud.
Donna Burkett: They must have did.
Betsy Kalin: [01:16:00] I have a question for you. Okay. Can you tell me what it I was like when, to be gay like in the early days? I think at one point you had mentioned that if everybody was gay and that you were all together and everybody wasn't separated.
Donna Burkett: Right.
Betsy Kalin: Can you just say that and talk about that?
Donna Burkett: [01:16:30] [01:17:00] With the gay bars, okay, it was just a gay bar. Everybody went to it, it wasn't... Then it started breaking up to guy bars, lesbians start coming in. When I first heard it, "What the hell is that?" You know everybody was just gay. Then it started being, then it started breaking off into guy bars, and then the Queen bars, the Butch bars. I'm like, "My goodness." That's the way of separation. I just, I don't know. I just really think that we can all live together. I really do think that.
[01:17:30] I don't like to be only, I don't like being just in this little group right here. I might want to go check out this group out, you know? I mean how you going to grow if all you do is knowing what's there, around you all the... If you just stay in the same place all the time? How you gonna grow? How you gonna learn anything about anybody? I mean if we're gonna make it as a people we need to get to know every, all of... I mean all these little groups we need to know straight, gay, black, white, Mexican, purple, orange, whatever color you are. We all need to learn a little about everybody if acceptance is ever gonna...
[01:18:00] Otherwise, we're gonna stay in these little groups and anytime somebody different comes around everybody's gonna jump on them, ostracize them. That's not good, that's not a melting pot, that's what I thought this was supposed to be, a melting pot.
Betsy Kalin: You, yourself, I mean you were an activist, right? Do you want to talk about that?
Donna Burkett: [01:18:30] Well, no I wasn't any, I was just doing what I felt needed to be done at that time. I didn't call myself anything, just Donna. Well, they gave me a lot of names, Dynamite, insane. Now you think I'm a lot of things, I mean I had a lot of little nicknames but I only did what I thought I was supposed to do.
[01:19:00] [01:19:30] [01:20:00] I joined the service because my intentions when I went in was two-fold: I wanted to see the world, and I wanted to fight for my country, for my loved ones. Everybody I knew lives in the United States, my family, my friends; I wanted to go fight. I didn't want to... I did fight in Alabama, but that wasn't the fight I was looking for but that's the one I got, so I did that one. I appreciate these women that's going over to the battlegrounds, the battlefields because when I was in the military they just, the only women that went to a war zone were in the medical field, nurses. A few of them and army brats like if your daddy, your great, grandfather your great, great all of that you got a whole line of people in the marines then you kind of had a little clout even as a private or a lieutenant. Whichever way you went, enlisted or anyway. Then you could kind of command a little something.
[01:20:30] [01:21:00] Now if women want to go into artillery, if they want to go fight, for me I like that idea because it's still you got a choice. It ain't like they throw, like with the guys they don't have a choice. A lot of times when they did some of them ran off to Canada and all of that, but they didn't really have a choice. If they were a guy they got drafted after a certain age when they get to what was it 18, or something like that? Then you had to go when they call your number, bam you was off.
[01:21:30] Women didn't have that because at that time we were supposed to be barefoot and pregnant. I mean that was the mentality of the United States back in the day. Women had nothing to say, they had no rights. We had to fight for the right to vote. You know how hard that was? Men didn't want women, you know? Now we fighting, we still fighting. We gonna always be fighting. We have a fighting spirit, this world. This United States was built on a fight. It really was, it was built on a fight and we gonna be fighting.
Betsy Kalin: I mean you marched for the Open Housing.
Donna Burkett: Yes, I did.
Betsy Kalin: Then you also fought for gay rights by getting married, which you didn't know you were doing, but you did.
Donna Burkett: [01:22:00] [01:22:30] Right. Right because I always felt that was your own personal choice and ain't nobody got any business. I know I'm using double negatives and all that, but just to break it down. It was not and I still don't feel like it’s nobody's business who you can love, who you love. Ain't nobody got nothing to say about that but the person that you do love. That's the only person and all I can say is, "Don't love me." But if you love somebody that's from the heart. Can't nobody change that. Ain't nobody outside and no government? Oh my goodness, they got enough business to be thinking about trying to get personal with people. Well anyways, they ain't got no business telling you that. They never have and they never will have, as far as I'm concerned.
Betsy Kalin: Well, what was Action Wisconsin?
Donna Burkett: That was another gay group.
Betsy Kalin: Can you say the name?
Donna Burkett: [01:23:00] [01:23:30] Action Wisconsin was another gay group in the late 60's, early middle 70's. I'm trying to remember the mission. I can't remember the mission but they were more like I think a political gay group, I believe. I can't remember that was a very long time ago. They were based in Madison Wisconsin. Action Wisconsin was based in Madison.
[01:24:00] I don't know if I should say, yeah, I can say this. We had a meeting because there was a chapter here in Milwaukee. We had a meeting in Madison, I went up there and then that's when I met our now Senator Tammy Baldwin. She had just got out of college and she ages so gracefully. She still looks so much like she did 40, 50 years ago when I first met here. She's still fighting, you know? All this crap, I'm getting political, all this crap that's out here about that she did the Vets wrong-
Betsy Kalin: One second, that was really loud.
Donna Burkett: [01:24:30] Yeah, it was loud. That's a bunch of crap because she has been ... There it go again and I don't even have my windows open.
Betsy Kalin: Now it's just a loud, that sounds like a motorcycle.
Donna Burkett: I'm glad they ain't back firing and stuff for going down there to that corner tavern.
Betsy Kalin: Did you face, like when at the gay bars, did you face police harassment?
Donna Burkett: [01:25:00] Oh, I didn't. I had a mouth. I didn't. I didn't, but it was going on. See I'm gonna tell you something else they used to do.
Betsy Kalin: Hold on one second.
Natalie Tsui: All right, one second. [inaudible].
Betsy Kalin: Yes.
Natalie Tsui: [inaudible].
Betsy Kalin: Yes.
Donna Burkett: I could ...
Betsy Kalin: I'm trying. Oh, okay. Yes. Can you say that you didn't face police-
Donna Burkett: [01:25:30] [01:26:00] [01:26:30] I did not face police harassment as a gay or black person here in Milwaukee but it was going on. Well, that one time, no, that was Open Housing when they ... But anyway, what the police used to do, they used to do a few things to the gay people here. All right, at the gay bars when we started having more than one gay bar, the police used to drive around the bar, write down the license plates numbers of the cars that were parked there, go back to the station. Check them out. If they were married they would call their wife and tell them, "Do you know your car is parked down here by this gay bar?" They were so rotten the police here that was under Breirer. Now that I do remember because I was in all of that, I was against all of that but they used to do that. Like I said before, the guys, the gay men, the Queens could not come out and drag only on Halloween because if they caught them out-
Betsy Kalin: Oh, my God.
Donna Burkett: There it go again.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, it's really ...
Betsy Kalin: It's really bad. I'm so sorry that it keeps going on. It's the motorcycles.
Donna Burkett: [01:27:00] Yeah, they're getting ready because it must be getting dark. I mean it's getting, maybe they getting ready to go down to this carnival but wait until they start. I call it farting when them bikes you know, "Putt, putt, putt," when they raising them.
Betsy Kalin: It's gone. Okay, so talk about the gay men.
Donna Burkett: [01:27:30] Yeah, the gay men here could not come out in drag but on one day a year and be open, and that was Halloween. When they caught them on other nights, they haul them down to the jail. They get their one phone call and they would call GPU. GPU would get on the line and call all the people on their list. Tell them what time the court date is for the Disorderly Conduct, that's what they used to book them on under, Disorderly Conduct. We would pack the courthouse, court room, and we'd be loud. Boy, the judge would get mad, "Get out of here all of y'all," and they'd dismiss the charges.
Betsy Kalin: [01:28:00] That's great .
Donna Burkett: They would write down the license plates numbers and call the house, their home, "Do you know where your car is now?" Well, I'll tell you, it's parked by this gay bar on," and give the address and the name of the bar.
Betsy Kalin: Why don't you talk about the group, "Lesbians of Color"? What was that? Can you say the name?
Donna Burkett: [01:28:30] Oh, LOC? LOC was a small group and it was, it was a nice organization, group. It was mostly a social organization, it wasn't... We weren't political. Just had parties and get fellowship. Get together and dance, laugh, talk, few drinks, you know? That was it. That's all I knew.
Betsy Kalin: When was it? Do you remember?
Donna Burkett: [01:29:00] No, it had to be, it had to be in the '70's or the 80's. I'm not really sure anymore. It's been a long time ago.
Betsy Kalin: Tell us about... Oh, I hear a plane? You hear the plane?
Natalie Tsui: Now I can hear it.
Betsy Kalin: Okay.
Natalie Tsui: Well, yeah. I think I'm hearing a truck and a plane.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah, I know it's loud. Can we go?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: [01:29:30] Tell us about DJing and your love of music and DJing.
Donna Burkett: [01:30:00] [01:30:30] Well, I started, I never called it DJing. See I used to, I always have love music. At the time when I used to make the tapes for my car. They used to always have to be a pause in between from one song to the next song. I had to, I wanted to figure out how to make the tape continue when I'm changing the record and putting the next song on. Then I found out that I needed a mixer. I went, and I bought a mixer. Then I had to buy two turntables. Anyway, I started at home just so I can have my music just to play through without any pauses. You change a song and you take two or three seconds or whatever it take so then after I ...
[01:31:00] [01:31:30] Then this guy, a friend of mine, and he's still my friend. This was way back too. He told me, he asked me, he said because I used to always have a lot of people over at, to my house and play music, and dance, and drink, and play cards, or whatever. They used to call me Dynamite at that time. He said, "Dynamite, why don't you... I want to have a birthday party at the bar at Tina's. Why don't you come and play the music?" I said, "All right." He said, "You got it all." I said, "Well, I don't." He said, I said, "I don't do that out." He said, "I'll help you load your stuff up. We'll bring it down there and set it up."
[01:32:00] [01:32:30] They sat me up in the window at the bar and that's how it started. Then it grew and people started liking the music, and I started buying music. I started, well, I was always buying it, but I started loading it in my car, throwing it the trunk, them crates of albums. Ooh, that stuff was heavy. Some of the bars, I'd have to go like a day or two before I'm gonna play down there and string the wire for the speakers, so it don't be all over the floor like I did at home you and put them running up through the ceiling through, they had those false ceilings. I'd have to get a ladder and throw it this far and then go get the speaker wire until it get long enough from the DJ booth, so used to do that. Hook all the stuff up and that's how I got started. I never thought of it as DJing, I just really thought of it as playing music because that's what I used to love to do; played it all the time. That's how I got started.
[01:33:00] [01:33:30] I got a huge selection of music. Have lots of albums stored all around in my living room in crates still. I got my little storage locker full of albums. I always say that one day I'm going to find them and go through them and stuff and start pulling out those 12 inches and turn them into CDs because even though a lot of them music is online now and on CD, you can't find a lot of those mixes that they have on them 12 inches. I got a lot of them. I'm just too lazy to do the work to put them on a CD, but I don't have the equipment to mix them like I used to do in the bar.
[01:34:00] [01:34:30] In the bar I had gotten so good. I could hear the music, I knew the songs so well, when it's gonna go just maybe a little part like y'all hear in those planes, and buzzers, I can know when it's coming in. I can increase that if it's bass, or a treble, or whatever it is. Just make it be real, I mean, yeah, but I don't have that kind of equipment anymore. Since I've had the stroke I don't, I'm not, see I'm not into the newer music. Since I've had the stroke only one hand really works for me really well. I couldn't do it now, you know? I couldn't be on time with it. I have a friend, and she showed me the new equipment but that stuff is so expensive. Of course the old stuff is really expensive. I just don't have the longing in my heart to do that anymore.
[01:35:00] What I do now, I just put music on CDs and give it away. People ask me for music. They ask me for old groups, and some people ask me for house music. I have whatever little bit that I have, I make them up. I got CDs laying all over the place where I just give them away. It just keeps me busy, it keeps my mind active. It's a good exercise. Its good therapy for me so.
Betsy Kalin: Did you DJ in gay bars or ...
Donna Burkett: [01:35:30] Yeah. Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: Can you say that?
Donna Burkett: [01:36:00] [01:36:30] Yes, I Dj'd in gay bars. I did a few straight bars too, you know? But I didn't have as much freedom to play the music in the straight bars. Actually gay people and straight people play different music; what straight people used to play in the bars, we used to call it radio music, that's what we used to call it. We had our own music, we had our own music. Some of the straight bars that I played in I'd play a record or song or two but if I don't get a response and it's a feeling response. If I don't get the response then I don't play that type of music and it's mostly house. It was house music that we mostly played in the gay bars.
[01:37:00] We played, I played all kinds of music and then they gave me in the gay bars they gave me Sundays because I used to like to settle the people down. Like they done danced the whole weekend, settle down, and talk to your neighbor sitting next to you. Get to, listen to some Sade or... Come on, what's her name?
Betsy Kalin: Toni Braxton?
Donna Burkett: [01:37:30] [01:38:00] No. Uh-huh. Anita Baker. You know? Kind of some like that I play Tony wasn't really out. I mean she was out but ... Those other, I don't know. I found that they liked the slow songs too. They liked them quite a bit. The guys did too. They started hollering out, "Dynamite play that, that, that... Dynamite play that, that that... Play this." They go through my records and they said, "Play this. Play this." Go ahead, whatever because that's what spinning records is all about, the people. A lot of DJ's won't play when you ask them to play something, they won't play it. That's to me, for me, it was about the people that's in the bars that's what they want to hear so that's what you play. That's the way I was so.
Betsy Kalin: Great. Great. Thank you. I cannot, this is ... I'm actually numb.
Donna Burkett: You are. That's a hard seat.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. That was really hard, I have no feeling below my waist.
Donna Burkett: I ain't even got no pillows, I would say take pillow out but I ain't got no pillows
Betsy Kalin: I'm just gonna have to sit here.
Natalie Tsui: Okay.
Betsy Kalin: [01:38:30] Well stand up and-
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, why don't you stand up and stretch? It's just a matter of you're a little bit... I'm going to roll again.
Betsy Kalin: Okay.
Donna Burkett: This has been really pleasant
Betsy Kalin: It's fun.
Donna Burkett: Yeah, you had me going and I haven't even had a beer.
Betsy Kalin: Okay. I have something else that I want to ask you about that you were the first black woman at AC Spark Plug.
Donna Burkett: Nah, I don't ...
Betsy Kalin: In 1976.
Donna Burkett: [01:39:00] Nah, uh-huh, I wasn't the first black. There was some blacks when I got there.
Betsy Kalin: Women?
Donna Burkett: Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: Hmm.
Donna Burkett: But I was one of the first women to run a robot out there and a welder. I used to love welding. Yeah, but there was some black women out there when I got there. I'm sure there was. There was quite a few come to think of it.
Betsy Kalin: Well, what was the name of the company? What did you do?
Donna Burkett: [01:39:30] It was AC Spark Plugs. We made the catalytic converters for the General Motors cars and the Japanese cars, we did. I did every phase of it from the putting the basic converter together from the beginning all the way until it gets shipped out the building.
Betsy Kalin: Was there a lot of women there? Or were you one of the-
Donna Burkett: [01:40:00] [01:40:30] [01:41:00] Oh yeah, there was a lot of women out there. I was the only woman on my line at one time. I worked with these, we called ourself, "The Reject Line," because every last one of us on that line, all of us had problems working with the supervisors or the people that we had in the previous years. In some kind of way, we all ended up together and we were the best working line out there. We were so good. We used to get our production done like on Thursday and then we'd leave early on Friday. Our supervisor used to punch us out because all they cared about was we get the count, the numbers out by Friday. We didn't have no complaints, we didn't run telling people, we didn't squabble; we just worked good together. If somebody wanted to go to bathroom and stay for a half hour somebody else just covered for him.
[01:41:30] We got the work done, that was it. Did every phase of the operation from putting a convertor actually together and putting the catalyst in it, God, I'm trying to think of that stuff that used to make everybody sneeze and itch. I can't remember all that stuff to welding them up, packing them up in the baskets, and labeling them. Throwing them, getting them out the door. We did every phase, ain't not one phase that ...
Betsy Kalin: [01:42:00] Let me ask you another question too. You got an award from the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center.
Donna Burkett: Right.
Betsy Kalin: Can you talk like what that award was and what it was for? What was it called?
Donna Burkett: I forgot what it's called. It's right there in a window.
Betsy Kalin: Is it, "Everyday Courage," award, I think it was called.
Donna Burkett: [01:42:30] No, it wasn't that. I'd know it if I heard it, but see that little blue thing right-
Betsy Kalin: I'm gonna go
Donna Burkett: See it? That shade is over it now. See the little-
Betsy Kalin: Yeah, I see it.
Donna Burkett: Yeah, that's it.
Betsy Kalin: I was going to move it actually and use it but-
Donna Burkett: Yeah, that's it.
Betsy Kalin: It says it's the, "Milwaukee LGBT Community Center Be Yourself Vanguard Award."
Donna Burkett: Oh, that's what it's called, okay. Vanguard. Okay.
Betsy Kalin: [01:43:00] Okay, let me come back and just say that it was the LGBT Center Vanguard Award.
Donna Burkett: Okay. It was a big celebration that night. They had lots of people there.
Betsy Kalin: Can you say where you were and what the award was?
Donna Burkett: [01:43:30] [01:44:00] [01:44:30] The award was, it was ... The first I heard about it was when the, it was a gay something getting ready to come up on the calendar. When the newspaper came out to do a new interview, they are the ones who told me that they were going to be giving me an award. It's in that ... Where is that clipping? It's in that clipping. It was a really nice function, it was at Potawatomi. In one of the, I forgot the name of that room but it was a really elegant, a big chandelier. It was really nice. I had a table up front with the County Exec Chris Abele. There was about four people at the table. It was really nice.
[01:45:00] [01:45:30] [01:46:00] They were doing an auction. There was some big money people around me because I remember, I remember a guy behind me at a different table. I remember he bid or donated, I don't remember, which one, $30 grand, and I had about 50 cents in my pocket. Abele, about three or four times, he donated or bid five grand. I'm like, they had all of this wine on the table, all these different types of wine, but I really don't care for wine. I tasted all of them, but I didn't like any of them. The wine I like was the... They didn't have, that's the cheap wine, but anyway. It was really nice. They had a speaker, they had a skit. It was really nice, it was fabulous. It was a lot of money to get in there, I think it was $125 a plate. It was a dinner, it was a dinner. Yes, it was. One of my friends said that they didn’t go because they didn't go because they didn't have that kind of money to spend. It was really a nice affair.
Betsy Kalin: Tell me about the award? What did they give you an award for and why?
Donna Burkett: [01:46:30] They gave me an award because of this gay thing that was coming up. See my brain don't really... They gave it to me because they said it was something about to be a gay coming out day or something we had. Something I can't really remember what it was, and they dredged up the story from 50 years ago, the marriage thing.
Betsy Kalin: I believe then it was when marriage passed.
Donna Burkett: [01:47:00] [01:47:30] [01:48:00] That's it. [crosstalk 01:46:49]. That's it, that's it. Yep, when it finally passed then they was asking me, "Did I ever think that it was going to take this long?" That was it. That's what it was. I know it was something, but I just can't remember all that stuff anymore. Yep, and they gave me that for what I did. I told them then, "What I did then was nothing that I ever thought would be a big deal because it was so dogged then." I mean it was such ... I never said, "Okay, well let's go. We go do this so we'll be important later on." I never thought anything of it, once it was over, it was dead. Then here we go 50 years later, then they bringing it up again. Now, it's a really big deal. See other people kept it going. See if you do something from the heart this is a belief of mine, but if you do something from the heart and it's a right thing, it's a good thing, then maybe nobody else can do that.
[01:48:30] [01:49:00] [01:49:30] You know like with the Wright brothers and the airplane, okay? Somebody will pick it up and they'll keep going and keep going and keep improving on it, and keep it going and keep it going, until it's there. That's the way to me, so I shouldn't have gotten an award. Everybody that is gay should have been getting an award because just like I forgot it, it would have been forgotten had not somebody else kept it going. You know gay pride, you know the gay parade. You know all the people that put that stuff together and participate. All of that stuff keeps it going till we get what we want. That's the way I look at it, I just think everybody should be getting a pat on the back, I really do. Because if it had stopped with me it would have gone dead a long time ago, because my remembrance is very not good. That's just a little step and then somebody else come and take a little more step. Then somebody else come take a little more step.
[01:50:00] Then look we got whole thing done, that's people working together. That's what this country is about; people working together, all different kinds of people from all different walks of life. Everybody need to pat themself on the back that they kept it going and that they will keep it going. Yeah, so.
Betsy Kalin: That's great. I have four questions now that we ask everybody. The answers to these are pretty short, just a couple of sentences.
Donna Burkett: Giving me fair warning, huh?
Betsy Kalin: So I'm giving you warning.
Donna Burkett: Okay.
Betsy Kalin: The first question is, if a young person came to you and said they, should they come out? What advice would you give to them?
Donna Burkett: [01:50:30] [01:51:00] If a young person came to me and say should they come out? I would have to tell them that's up to them because see I can't make that decision for you. I don't know your circumstances, I don't know if you're serious or if you're doing it for a fad, or if you want to hurt somebody. I can't make that... That's up to you, but if you feel like you want everybody to know, then come out. Come on out, you know? You'll feel so much better after you done it. But if you don't feel it, if you feel you need some support then I would say that you to, I'll send them to the Community Center where they can get... They have support for young people, old people, any people if coming out is your issue.
[01:51:30] That's all up to you because see nobody can tell you. See you got to be a strong person to come out no matter what you coming out to, you got to be a strong person because you've been hidden for so long you've got all this self built in mechanisms. You got all these self destructive things inside of you because you've been hiding so long.
[01:52:00] [01:52:30] If you've got a little secret and it's really on our brain and you steady keep it, and you steady keep it. When you explode, and you let it go. No matter who you take, maybe you have to take little bitty steps. Maybe you want to come out to one person? Maybe, I don't know how you do it. You do what's on your heart because you the one that gotta live through it, not me. I can't live your life, you know? I couldn't tell anybody what to do about anything. That's not my place to do that, that's your place. You give it to some thought. You make the decision so when, if the stuff would backfire, don't come looking for me.
[01:53:00] Not that I'm trying to be safe, it's just that it's not... I can't live your life. I mean seriously though, I can't live anybody's life. I'm barely making it in my own. You have to do what feels good to you and for you. Peter and Paul and Mary cannot tell you what you should do in your life, they can only say what I should do. If we all clean up our own lives this world would be a whole lot better for everybody, you know ?
Betsy Kalin: Well, that was a little more than two sentences.
Donna Burkett: Oh, well.
Betsy Kalin: [01:53:30] But that's okay. Okay, the next one is, what is your hope for the future?
Donna Burkett: [01:54:00] [01:54:30] [01:55:00] Well, my hope for the future is that we can all learn inside, each one of us can learn inside of ourselves to accept other people with differences. That's not just gay and straight, black and white and purple people: people with disabilities, people with mental illnesses. I mean we are all different and everybody wants to make sure Tom is like what we want Tom to be. That contributes to Tom's disability, because Tom be trying to get what he don't know; he don't know what I want, you know? I'm just saying we learning, we need to learn how to accept people as they are, you know? Maybe we can do a little critiquing every now and then but that's my hope for the future that we can accept each other. If we can learn to do that and we don't start out by doing the whole world, we just keep it close, you know? Maybe have a friend down the street that really irritates me and gets on my nerve, maybe I try to have a little more patience with them and try to understand. That's all I'm saying, that's my hope for the future.
Betsy Kalin: Beautiful, that was so good. That's beautiful. I agree completely.
Donna Burkett: Wow.
Betsy Kalin: Why is it important to you to tell your story?
Donna Burkett: [01:55:30] [01:56:00] [01:56:30] A lot of people think they the only ones going through something. When you find out that, "Wow, that happened to that person? Wow. They done got over it. I can probably get past it too." That's what I think, that's what I'm hoping for that maybe I can help somebody deal with some kind of mental illness like I got and they can get past it. I'm not making jokes at it, but I am making a joke because laughter. Laugher, we all so serious, especially these young people they are so serious about... They take everything so personal. That's why they running around shooting, and stealing cars, and hurting people, because they take everything so personal. Laughter, have a... Laugh at yourself sometimes. So what if you've got missing teeth? So what if you wear glasses? So what if you can't see? So what? Just loosen up, unwind. Don't think everybody got to be perfect. There are no perfect people in this world. I forgot the question.
Betsy Kalin: You did great, you answered it. You said why it was important to tell your story. You know what, Donna? I honestly think that you should be, you should have a self-help book and teach everybody how to live life.
Donna Burkett: I can't do that.
Betsy Kalin: [01:57:00] You can. This last question is, why is OUTWORDS important? If you could use OUTWORDS in your answer, that would be great.
Donna Burkett: Okay.
Natalie Tsui: Wait, there's a car.
Betsy Kalin: Okay, one second.
Natalie Tsui: Okay, it's gone. It's clear.
Donna Burkett: [01:57:30] [01:58:00] [01:58:30] [01:59:00] Is it clear? Okay. OUTWORDS and that's not outwards, it's OUTWORDS. It's important because they are going around getting stories from a whole lot of different people. When I say different, I mean different cultures, people with different ideas, different feelings, different hopes, dreams, different backgrounds, and putting it out there. OUT there, so when other people see and hear the difficulties on the storms that some people have been, are going through, or have been through, that will help somebody else that's what the deal is. They're trying to help people, it don't matter what your sexual preference is, it doesn't matter what your race is, it doesn't matter how much schooling you have had, it doesn't matter about your education, it doesn't matter about your job, it doesn't matter that you're rich, it doesn't matter that you're poor. What matters is that we all need help and that's who they're trying to reach, other people and everybody needs help. OUTWORDS, words, W-O-R-D-S. As far as I'm concerned, it's a great organization. That's my answer to you all.
Betsy Kalin: Thank you. That was great. Natalie? Natalie's gonna ask some questions but answer to me.
Donna Burkett: Okay.
Betsy Kalin: Pretend she's not there.
Donna Burkett: Okay.
Natalie Tsui: One is a JUST technical one. I think we never got you saying what the result, like you were the first couple to get or to try to get married in the United States. Can you say that?
Donna Burkett: Okay.
Betsy Kalin: [01:59:30] Say your partner's name too, because I think you only said it once.
Donna Burkett: [02:00:00] Okay. Well, at the time that I tried to get, not I, we, me Donna Burkett, and Manonia Evans, at the time that we tried to get married... excuse me, having a senior moment. Thought left. I forgot the question.
Betsy Kalin: Just say that you were the first same sex couple.
Donna Burkett: [02:00:30] [02:01:00] Oh, yes, right. Okay. Yeah, so at the time in 1971 when Manonia Evans and me, myself, Donna Burkett. When we tried to get married, as far as my knowledge is we were the first couple to go to try to go the legal route to get married. Get your marriage license first and then you get married. As far as I know, we were the first couple in the United States. In fact, I'll venture out to say that as far as I know we were the first people in the world to try to legally get married and were turned down. I know of no other couple that tried to do that. No other. We didn't do it for recognition because we didn't know that we couldn't do it. Okay.
Natalie Tsui: [02:01:30] Next question. The next question I have is, you, I just... Hearing your story, you're such a resilient person. I think you've undergone so much, I don't know, so much discrimination but you've also maintained hope. What is your advice to young people that need to be resilient or maintain hope?
Donna Burkett: Well, if you don't have hope-
Natalie Tsui: Wait. There's a plane or something.
Betsy Kalin: It's a truck.
Natalie Tsui: Ah. Okay, everything's fine.
Donna Burkett: [02:02:00] [02:02:30] If you don't have hope, no matter what age you are, you only can get hope from one place in my opinion and that is from God. Not from people, but from God. God will give you hope, God created you. God created me, and he created everything else. If you need hope, you need to go to God in your own way and ask him to fill you with his hope. That's for anybody. I don't care what your religion is.
Natalie Tsui: [02:03:00] I think just to expand on that a little bit. Listening to your story, you faced people calling you names when you were a kid, you faced moving out of your house when you were young, you faced going to get a marriage license and having this whole media circus around you and losing your jobs and eventually losing your partner. What is it in you that makes you, besides having faith in God, but what is it that makes you so determined and so powerful to face all of these challenges?
Donna Burkett: [02:03:30] [02:04:00] Well again, I can't say besides God because he put it all in me. Even when I didn't know, when I look back on my life it had my hope, my strength. It had to come from somewhere. I have strong parents. Well, I know my mother, I never knew my father, but my mother is strong. My grandfather is strong, my sister is strong, her children are strong. We're just strong and that's the only thing I can think of even if I didn't know about God, he still made me strong. Since I feel like can't nobody, I have to say it like this, can't nobody turn me around. What I think, my mamma used to always tell me, "You so hard headed. Girl, a hard head is gonna make a soft beep." It is because if you believe in something and see that's the thing you gotta believe.
[02:04:30] [02:05:00] You gotta believe in something. If you don't believe in nothing then you just gonna fizzle on out because you have nothing inside to push you to do something. You're gonna fizzle out. So you better get something that you really and truly believe in and that will give you hope, that will give you strength that you will give you love. That's what, now everybody can believe, I know everybody believe in love. You can call God whatever you want. You can call him love, you can call him whatever you want, but you gotta believe in something. Love is a beautiful thing to believe in. I'm not just talking about physical love, you got to get the love here and get it there. You're good to go.
Natalie Tsui: Tell me just one more time, tell me, "You gotta have strength. You gotta have hope and you gotta have love."
Donna Burkett: Yes.
Natalie Tsui: Say that again.
Donna Burkett: [02:05:30] [02:06:00] [02:06:30] Yes. Yes. You've got to have, you cannot make it in this world. You just can't, you can't make it in this world without strength, without hope, and the most powerful is love. You gotta have love. You gotta have it. If you go around hating everybody and everything just forget it. Forget it. As long as you're carrying that, you don't have room for anything good to come to you because you're carrying around so much garbage. You gotta have love, you really do have to have love. With love come all the rest of the things you need. Strength, hope, endurance, it all comes, but first you gotta have love. That's the greatest gift of all. You know a couple artists even said it, Whitney Houston, George Benson, a whole lot of people say, "You gotta have love, and the love of yourself is the greatest love of all." You know it's just so beautiful. I ain't talking about all that sex stuff. I'm talking about love, there's a difference. I got love.
Natalie Tsui: I have one last question. It's kind of like a silly one but-
Donna Burkett: Ooh, I love silly questions.
Natalie Tsui: I was wondering what your favorite song is?
Donna Burkett: [02:07:00] [02:07:30] [02:08:00] Oh, man. I really don't know. I got so many of it. I know it used to be, at one time my favorite song used to be, "Easy," and "Zoom." If you take things kind of easy going, you don't put a lot of unnecessary stress on yourself. Stress is a killer, it done kill so many people. It leads to heart attacks, it leads to everything. It leads to the crazy house. It leads to everything, but if you just take an easy going attitude and you get that from love. If you look hard enough you could look at your worst enemy and find something inside of them that you can love. You really can. But first you better learn to love yourself because if you don't love yourself you can't love, but then you don't know what love is. You got to learn to love yourself, accept yourself. Then you can look at somebody else and say, "Well, okay, I had you figured wrong." I know we all done did that and said and looked at somebody and said, "Okay, maybe you that ain't as bad as I thought you was, so maybe I'll try again."
[02:08:30] Keep that love in your heart. Who was, who was that singing, "Put a little love in your heart?" Who sang that song? That's an old song. Oh, I can't even think of it. Who sang that song?
[02:09:00] People been singing about love forever. It's gotta be something to it. Nobody sings about hate. Nobody that I know. Maybe some of these rappers might do it because I don't know what they be talking about. I don't know what they be singing anyway, but people be singing about love forever in every genre of music, they sing about love. Even when they playing the violin, they playing with love. You can just feel it. You can feel it, music is such a universal language. A good thing to love, you can start with loving your music.
Betsy Kalin: I think that's it.
Natalie Tsui: Oh is that-
Donna Burkett: That's-
Natalie Tsui: That thing that she-
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. Donna, is there anything else that we didn't talk about that you want to add?
Donna Burkett: [02:09:30] No. Nah, I can't think of anything. I'll probably wake up in the middle of the night and say, "You know what?" Yeah, but no, I can't think of anything.
Betsy Kalin: All right. Well, I just loved this conversation with you. Thank you so much.
Donna Burkett: Y'all just live so far.
Betsy Kalin: Yep.
Donna Burkett: Yeah, y'all live so far.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah, we've cut-
Natalie Tsui: Okay. That's room tone.
Donna Burkett: [00:00:30] Okay. My name is Jose Manas. No, no, just joking. Donna Burkett. I am, next week or whenever I will, I'm soon to be 72 years old. I was born March 22nd 1946 in Chicago Illinois at Cook County Hospital.
Donna Burkett: [00:01:00] It doesn't matter if I keep my foot up here or not?
Donna Burkett: [00:01:30] Oh, I really, I was raised here in Milwaukee. I came to Milwaukee when I was about... My mom and my family we moved here when I was about eight or nine, something like that. Most of my childhood or what I remember is here in Milwaukee. Been here all my life, just about. As a kid, I was a kid, running and playing, not like the kids today. We didn't drive cars, we rode bicycles. I don't need that in there, do I? No, because these are so different times now. I was a kid that played on the playground, I used to play marbles. All the games were running games, you know?
Donna Burkett: [00:02:30] Yes, I did. I played softball until... First I played, I started playing basketball in high school, junior high, but we only played females, girls. We only played against different schools, but it wasn't organized like it is now. Then when I got too old, when the 18 year olds started running me to death then I said, "Well, I can't play basketball anymore." I was about, oh I don't know, maybe about, I don't know, 35, 40, something like that. Then I started really just playing softball. I played softball. Oh, we had... That was pretty well organized. Used to play in tournaments. In fact once we won here and then we got invited to the world's tournament in Las Vegas. They flew us there. We lost right off, but it was a good experience.
[00:04:00] Then I had some back surgery. I couldn't play softball anymore so then I started shooting pool. I played pool here in Milwaukee. It's a real organized women pool leagues. We used to play like every, just about every night of the week there were tavern leagues. I played pool until I had my stroke, and then that paralyzed the left of my body. I still shot one season with one hand and then they started complaining about how long it takes because you have to get your balance and all of that. I quit playing pool in '05, so since then, I've been pretty much not doing anything.
Betsy Kalin: [00:04:30] Did you when you were playing... Oh, there's, I don't know-
Donna Burkett: [00:05:00] Just women. They are not many, well, they are not women out here in Milwaukee. I mean that I know of or back then when I was playing pool and softball. In fact, there was just very few.
Donna Burkett: [00:05:30] Yeah, very few. I was. They used to, I could hear them, because we used to fill up the park because we played real ball. We didn't, we played ball to win. Some of the people up in the stands they would holler out and call you names and stuff. I'd come up to bat I was... They'd say, "Oh, you look like a man. Let me see you hit the ball like a man." I hit like three hops to the shortstop. Phew. That was enough to get me to first, you know? It didn't bother me really, I was used to it by then, the name calling I mean.
Betsy Kalin: [00:06:00] When you were growing up, did you have siblings? What did your mom and dad do?
Donna Burkett: [00:06:30] It's over here somewhere. I don't know, is the water off in the sink?
Donna Burkett: [00:07:00] Okay. I grew up with my mother, my sister. I have one sister. My aunts, and uncle, and my grandfather. We have no family... My mom was not married,we had no dad in the house. Our grandfather was our father, so to speak. He was never home because he ran, he had a restaurant, very popular here in Milwaukee. People that have been in Milwaukee since the 50's they remember his restaurant. My mom, she was not at home a lot with my sister and I because she worked for her daddy like the rest of his kids did.
[00:08:30] My sister and I were really left off to sort of raise ourselves in a way. My mom, she only had one day a week off from work. That was on a Wednesday and that one day she taught us to look out for each other. We still do that to this day. She always used to tell us, "If you need something, you go to your sister and ask her for it. If she doesn't have it, I mean if she has it then she's gonna give it to you even if it's her last. On the other hand, if you don't need it, don't ask for it." That's the way we grew up. We're still like that. We're very close today still. We look out for each other. We talk every day on the phone. She comes by here a few times a week and help me out. Her kids, she has kids now. Her kids are not kids anymore. They're grown. In fact, I got to throw this in. My youngest niece just got her PhD, we so proud of her. Yeah. She has four children, four nearly senior citizens now they are.
[00:11:30] She was always with me, no matter what. I used to take her out sometimes. We'd go out to the gay bars together. She'd just love the light, I'd turn around, and she was up there on the dance floor dancing by herself. We went one time, we went over to Chicago and got her mom, my grandmother, and then my girl at the time, her mom, and my sister and her boyfriend. We all went to, I took them to a gay bar, right? Soon as they walked in there was this guy dancing right in, up on the stage, right? As soon as you open the door you can see it. My mom, my grandmother, and my girl's mother, they just got flabbergasted. They stopped right there. I told the bartender, "Whatever they wanted to drink just keep the glasses full, and I'll straighten them out at the end of the night," because I was a regular. They knew me there. They had a good time, they really did; they had a good time.
[00:14:00] Then my uncle, he was the spokesman. Nobody said nothing, at first, my uncle said, "Well Donna, may I ask the name of the person you're going to marry?" I said, I knew right then he knew something was up. I said, "That's her right there." Then my grandmother said, "Well, I'm not going to be a part of it. I'm not going. I'm not this. I'm not that." I told her, I said, "Mother," I said, "You ain't got to be a part of it. You ain't got to do nothing. I'm telling you what I'm getting ready to do, if you don't want me around you then I won't come around you anymore. I'm still the same but if you don't want to be bothered with me then you don't have to be." That was the end of that. One of my aunts was singing the same story, so I said "All y'all, I ain't got to see none of you all anymore." That's exactly what I said. I remember that.
[00:15:00] They all came around, eventually, they all came around. After that, they didn't treat me any different. Whenever they came to Milwaukee they come see me and whenever I go to Chicago I come over and spend time with them. It was the same, so they didn't... That was it. That was the only incident with my family. After that, no more questions. They accepted whoever I brought around, no questions; no acting crazy towards them, no saying stupid things, if they had them in their heart they kept it in their heart it didn't come out, so that was my family.
[00:16:00] I appreciate that from them. Most of them ain't here no more, but I just had, they didn't give me a hard time. Wherever I went, and if whoever I was with, my family always knew. See I always wanted my family to know what I'm doing so if anything happens to me they kind of have a clue to who I might be around or what I might do. So they couldn't say, "Well, they found her in the alley shot up full of drugs." They wouldn't accept that because they know, I might have smoked a little bit of stuff, but they know I didn't shoot nothing. They had to know, I always let them know what I was doing so.
Donna Burkett: [00:17:00] Oh, I always knew it. I knew it. I always knew it. I knew it when I was a little kid. I knew it because I always was attracted to women. I always knew it. I always knew it. I remember when I was like, I don't know, I'd say probably in the one numbers, you know? One, two, three, four, single numbers, so under 10. I remember I'd be outside playing and this lady used to walk down the street. I know she was on her way to work. She would walk real sassy like and she used to smell so good. I used to just run and play in front of her, get all in her way like, "Get out of the way, kid." I always knew it. She was just so pretty to me, you know? I always knew it. I knew it before you know what people are supposed to do. Then I knew it, and the kids knew it too. When I was a kid, they knew it because I had to fight about every boy in the neighborhood so they'd leave me and my sister alone. I had to beat their butts, you know?
[00:18:00] Then I said, "I was like the leader of the neighborhood." They come get me, "Let's go do this. Let's go do that." We'd be jumping off of roofs, garage roofs. We had, there was an alley and every yard in the alley had a fruit tree. We used to call that, "Paradise Alley," because we'd go get our little brown bags, and we'd go rob the fruit trees. I mean, that's what we did as kids for fun. We'd have throw them little cranberry, cran apples, them little apples when they was really little we used to throw them at each... I mean, just have fun, kid stuff.
[00:19:00] We didn't think about driving cars. Our parents didn't even hardly have cars then. We walked everywhere we used to go or we'd ride bikes if we had bikes, you know? We just did kid things, throw rocks, pebbles at windows. Throw eggs at the guy at the gas station across the street. We'd go, be across the street, go to the store, get a bunch of eggs and just bombard his station with eggs. He'd take off. He'd get mad and take off after them. Then we'd run, that was fun stuff for us. We did kid stuff.
Donna Burkett: [00:19:30] Well, sometimes they did as a kid, I'd be walking down the street coming home from the playground by myself and people be sitting on their porch. That really, I didn't know what it was but the way they would said, they used to call me and say, "Look at that little bulldagger." I'm like, "What the ..." I didn't know what it was but I knew it was something I did not want to be from the way they said it. They said it so bad, you know? It was something I didn't want to be, but I didn't know what it was so I just... Later on I found out what it was and what they was inferring, you know? Yeah, they said, they used to call me names. So what? They wouldn't call me no names to my face otherwise we got to box. We did. We'd have to fight. I couldn't take that name calling.
Donna Burkett: [00:20:30] Oh, I left home, I was probably — before I graduated from high school. I lived next door. I lived next door most of the time with my friends and her, in their house with her parents. I lived there for a while but first I lived in my uncle, my uncle-
Betsy Kalin: [00:21:00] That's a really noisy muffler.
Natalie Tsui: [00:21:30] Just don't let off as much as you can. How about-
Donna Burkett: [00:22:00] Well, I used to run away a lot because when my mom stopped working she put curfews on us. See, me and my sister, we used to be all over the city because see my mom if I run home from grade school I could catch her walking up the alley on her way to work. She worked until my grandfather ran, he ran, he had a restaurant, he owned a restaurant, until he ran out of barbecue. She'd get home. I don't know whenever they ran out two, three, four o'clock in the morning. She had one day a week off, you know? Me and my sister we'd be all over the city. We'd be everywhere. His restaurant was on 14th and North Avenue. The first one was down on Haymarket. It burnt down then he opened up... My grandfather, can I plug his name?
Donna Burkett: [00:23:00] He called himself, "Black King." He said he was a black man and he was going to be the king of barbecue and he was. He had the first black sit down restaurant in Milwaukee. Sit down, dine in. He had clocks, all different types of clocks all up the wall and on the ceiling. We'd be down at, my sister and I, we'd sneak, we'd come home we'd have to go ... We used to go to skating rink and that was down on the East side on North Avenue. It was called Riverview. When we'd go past the restaurant we used to wait until the cars be going past and then we'd run real fast, just in case our mother would be working by the window. We didn't want her to see us.
[00:24:30] We'd get home and sometimes in the summer, we'd be sitting on the front porch, my sister and I and then when the cars would be turning the corner coming down 18th Street that's where we lived. I knew the cars by their headlights. I could tell if it was a Ford, if it was a Chevy, whatever kind of car it was. We used to sit up there and do that all the time. I'd say, "Okay sis, here comes dad." That's my grandfather. We'd run in the house, hop in the bed, get under, pull the covers over our head. When mom would come in, the first thing she'd do she'd come in the room and she'd see the covers over our head. She'd say, "Donna. Lynn." We ain't saying nothing. Then she'd go on back in the kitchen. They would sit down her and her sisters and my grandfather. They would sit down at the kitchen table and talk. Me and my sister would be in the room listening, you know? They'd be talking about stuff. We didn't know half the stuff they talking about, but that's the way we did as kids.
Betsy Kalin: [00:25:30] When did you join the army? What was that like?
Donna Burkett: [00:26:00] Yeah just, maybe I just put that thing up and leave it on the floor. See I can't, I lose track of where it is and it'll just fall off. It'll keep doing it. Let me sit back in the chair. How about that? Leave the foot on the floor. How's that?
Natalie Tsui: [00:26:30] It barely moved.
Donna Burkett: [00:26:31] Okay.
Donna Burkett: [00:27:00] Okay. Yeah, I joined the army. I don't know when I joined. I know when I came home though. I joined in '60-some. See I got out of high school, I graduated from high school in '64, January '64. I joined the army. I tried to join before I graduated from high school but my mom had to sign for me and she wouldn't. I waited until I got old enough where I ain't need her to sign for me. I think I must have joined about '67 or somewhere around in there, '67, '68. I don't really remember, but I know I came home in '70.
Donna Burkett: [00:27:30] See when I signed up for the military, oh, I just wanted to go off and see the world and all that kind of stuff. I was supposed to go to Fort Bend Indiana for my... I had signed up to become some kind of accountant. I forgot the whole thing but it was some kind of accountant, and I was supposed to go to Fort Bend.
[00:28:30] They sent me to Alabama where that George Wallace was the Governor at that time. Now I, I don't watch, Kennedy sent them troops down there. That's when all these Civil Rights stuff was going on. I remember seeing this man in front of this school talking that crap. Then the captain of them troops said, "Ready, set, and aim," and then he come running his little butt from in front of them doors to let them little black kids in that school. That's where they sent me. I said, when I got there I said, "Oh Lord, I know I'm gonna die down here. I know I'm going to die. They're gonna find me in one of these swamps right on this post." They sent me to Fort McClellan, that's in Anniston Alabama. I had never been no further South than the South Side of Chicago and there's where they were.
[00:29:30] See when here before I went to the army, I had marched with, for Open Housing. The right, if your money lets you, then you can live anywhere you want to live that was the Open Housing bill. That was Father Groppi, Vel Phillips, they were in the front. Then behind them were the commandos, then behind them, all of us. Everybody else, you know? We marched that whole summer, all over the place. Maier was the Mayor because we marched to his house one time. They throwed bricks at us when we got to 21st and North. They had a crowd on the other side of the street throwing bricks at us. One landed right at my feet. They didn't hit anybody. I picked it up, I throwed it right across the street, right? That's when the police bomb rushed us.
[00:30:30] They gonna do what I don't know what they were gonna do but we ran too, but I got caught. This guy caught me in the alley. I cut across this playground. He caught me in the alley and body-slammed me on the hood of his car. I said to him, "Why you doing this to me? You black too? I'm marching for you too. What is your problem?" He went on to become some kind of big wig here in Milwaukee, but he never had my respect because he didn't have no ...
[00:31:00] Anyway, we did the marching here. When we marched across that 16th Street bridge I'll never forget that one either. When we got almost to the end of the bridge, we could see a bunch of people lined up like they had, I don't know. They didn't have no guns or anything but I thought they did. They in front of this, there was a gun shop, the name of it was, "Casanova." It was right at the corner of, it was on 16th and whatever across the street from National. I think it was, right, it could have been because it wasn't quite to the end of the bridge but I could see the name of that building, "Casanova." That's the name of a lover and all that. Hate was lined up in front of it. But anyway nothing happened, but I thought we was going to die then too, but nothing happened so we came on home.
[00:32:00] Then that's after that, after the marching was all done, that's when I joined the army, if I had been thinking I should of joined the air force. That's where I should have went so I could drive a plane. I can drive anything. I've driven every kind of vehicle except for a train, or a plane, or a ship. You don't drive a ship but anyway. Them big-wheelers, I drove a truck, my truck had 25 gears in it.
[00:32:30] When I first tried to join the military, when my recruiter took me down every day I passed everything except for the physical. I didn't weigh enough. I was really little. I was a little kid. He said, "Don't worry about it." He picked me up in about another week or something all the way to the station to get weighed in again. He fed me bananas and beer. When I got there, hit them scales I was like two pounds overweight, I mean past the minimum. Past the minimum so I got, so that's how I got in, bananas and beer. I got some bananas over there on the corner and beer in the refrigerator. But anyway, yeah.
Donna Burkett: [00:33:30] Oh yes. Oh, it was horrible. It was horrible! I never have been exposed to it like that. I mean just even the people in the military, I was getting it from both sides. See there's another person that was in the army around that time, her name is... Can I say it? Miriam Ben-Shalom. Now they tried to kick her out because she was gay. Back then you didn't have the gay and the lesbian, everybody was just gay; if you was homosexual you were gay that was all it was. They tried to kick her out because she was gay, and she fought them. She admitted that she was, and she didn't give... that's what, then that's how they kick you out because you admit it. Now they wanted to kick me out too, but I told them you better have some proof when you talk. See I know now I'm at Alabama, they already don't like me because I won't say Sir and Ma'am because I call them by their rank because I have to say it. Anyway because-
Donna Burkett: [00:35:00] Oh yeah, when they try to kick me out of the military, but see then you could not be gay and in the military. You couldn't say it. If you didn't fight, if you didn't have no fire in you, they could think it and you didn't have to be. But if they say it and you didn't have enough gumption to fight them, they'd kick you out anyway, you know? When they kick you out you're messed up for the rest of your life. You get a dishonorable discharge, you know? Just for who you love. You know what? Anyway, that's what they used to do and it was rough, you know? See when you get off duty, when you get off duty you do what you want to do. You live either in the barracks or you have, get your own apartment off post, you know? But you do what you want to do, you know? If they, they the army and I imagine all of the armed forces were probably the same, If one could do it then all the rest of it probably doing it too.
[00:36:30] Anyway if they thought, if they didn't like you they could say anything. I believe this is still true, but since now, except when we got this... whatever he is, I'm so glad I don't have to serve under this man now. See he know about as much about running something as I do about running him. I think the world thinking is changing, people are changing, you know? Now you don't have to live under a little cage or a glass bubble, you don't have to live like that. You don't have to keep all the things that you feel about, you don't have to keep that inside no more. You could just let it out. Most of the time people accept you now. It ain't always been like that.
[00:37:30] People, the young people of today, y'all just don't know how good you got it. Everything is given to you but there's still plenty of battles for y'all to be fighting. Trust me, there's plenty of battles, but you got so much like we had so much. We didn't know. We didn't realize what we had either when we were younger. But we did have belief. We had beliefs in what you are and who you are, and people fought for them. People are still fighting, and that's how this country was founded because we saw so much wrong being done, so we all got together and started up a new country, you know? Now the country is fighting among itself, this is off the subject, so I get like that I get, because I get carried away because you still so much injustice being done. I guess as long as everybody is different it'll never be, we'll never be all on one accord, which we need to be somewhere. I don't know, I'm all confused, so why ask me? I don't know. I'm not running anything. I'm barely trying to make it run myself, you know?
Betsy Kalin: [00:39:00] Can you say that?
Donna Burkett: [00:39:30] Yes, I can say that and I agree with that then but I don't know how it is ... But I tell you that South got me so worked up. A friend, I just talked to a friend of mine yesterday, she lives in Atlanta. She said, "I'm gonna send for you pretty soon and you can come visit me." I told her, "Thank you, but no thanks." Those two or three years I spent in Alabama I don't want to go anywhere close to the South and I have not been there and even on a free invite, I don't even want to go.
Betsy Kalin: [00:41:00] I mean, that's really dumb. We're gonna stop for one second because there's a plane.
Betsy Kalin: [00:41:30] Okay. When you got back how ... You were part of something called the GPU?
Donna Burkett: [00:42:00] GPU was Gay People's Union. That's what it stood for. It was a gay not, a gay... What do you call it? A gay organization. It was so bad here in the Milwaukee, that's all I can speak of because that's the only place, this is the only place that I really know. Like the guys-
Natalie Tsui: [00:42:30] It was a really loud one. I also realized that the mic cord moved. I think wind.
Donna Burkett: [00:43:00] I started to get me a beer to loosen me up, but I didn't.
Donna Burkett: [00:43:30] Gay People's Union was a gay organization that was for and that was-
Betsy Kalin: [00:44:00] That clock is right over here.
Natalie Tsui: [00:44:30] Great. If you lean back, we're good. Good.
Donna Burkett: [00:45:00] Gay People's Union was an organization, GPU. I don't know who founded it. I just know that Eldon Murray was the, I'm gonna say ring leader then, you know? I don't know, he might have been the one who founded... I'm not sure. It was a gay organization and Milwaukee was so bad, here it was so ... Gay people, you couldn't, gay people... well first of all it was against the law to be gay. It really was and I think it was Governor Pat Lucey, his first thing.
Betsy Kalin: [00:45:30] Oh, my God.
Donna Burkett: [00:46:00] Yeah, it was illegal to be gay here in Milwaukee. The gay guys could only come out in drag on Halloween and not get arrested. Gay People's Union, GPU, if somebody got arrested for being gay they had a list, and they used to call all us all up and we would flood the courthouse, the courtroom where they were ... When we got done being so loud they'd just throw out everybody. They'd throw everybody out the courtroom and throw out the charges. That's what we used to do. That was back in the, when was that? See I get all the years mixed up because I got a lot years on me now. I don't know if it was in, I think it was the '60's. I'm not sure though. It could have been in the early '70's but I believe it was in the '60s.
[00:47:00] Pat Lucey, the first thing I'm pretty sure when he got elected governor, the first thing he did was sign the bill for... I call it the Gay Rights bill that is consenting adults, that was the bill; consenting adults. Whatever happens between consenting adults is no longer the government's business. That same reason is why I tried to get married here because I never did feel like the government has no business telling you, me, or anybody else who you can marry, who you can love. That ain't their business and that was the reason behind the marriage try.
Donna Burkett: [00:48:00] I don't remember. I really don't remember. The first meeting, all I remember is I think I asked her to meet me at this bar. We had met somewhere, I don't really remember. When I came in the bar and I didn't see her so I walked back by the pool table. Then she came up and she said, "You ain't even going to speak to me." I looked, I said, "I didn't even recognize you." She looked all different. She had put on a little make up and stuff like ... Anyway, that's how, that's my remembrance it might not be quite right but just what I remember. I can't remember a whole lot about those days because they were kind of traumatic. She was in college, she was going to UW. I was messing around over here at MATC. Well it used to be called MIT at that time, Milwaukee Institute of Technology. When they had a bigger MIT Massachusetts, then they changed it to what it is now, MATC, Milwaukee Area Technical College.
[00:49:30] Anyway, so she was going to UW and I was messing around trying to work little, little jive jobs and going to school a little bit, you know? I don't really remember the whole thing how it came about. I just kind of remember all of a sudden, I don't remember all the details leading up to it. I remember the newspapers was coming out and they were talking to us. I remember at first we wouldn't show our face when they were asked for photographs from the back and side and all of that kind of stuff. Then I remember-
Donna Burkett: [00:50:30] I'm trying to remember. I don't remember all of that. I remember for me, I remember I liked the idea because I felt the government ain't got no business telling me who I could marry, that ain't their business. I'm grown,and so is she. I remember that for me, but I guess it was the same for her because we were in it together. I think it was more about the cost than anything else, I really believe that. I remember a few things about ...
[00:51:30] See my family was fine with it, they didn't care. We went over to Chicago to tell my family and they had a few objections, but that was about it. They went phew, so. That was the end of that. Her family, I didn't really know her family because her family wasn't like mine. Her father was a minister, and when I found out about him, he like kidnapped her. He told her when she came back because I didn't know where she was and I forgot, I don't know how long she was gone. She told me that he had a gun on her. He said he'd rather see her dead than to be marrying some woman. You could marry a drunk or a wino, well he didn't care as long as it was a man. That was the end of that episode. I never met her parents. I know she had one brother, I'm not sure if she had a sister or not but she kept... We lived together. She kept that part, that was over there, you know? Her family I didn't have to...
[00:52:30] I do remember though before he found out, before we showed our faces in the newspapers. Her father gave a big, he was some kind of big wheel in Milwaukee, some kind of official head of something, I don't really know what he was the head of, but he was some head of something in the government. He gave this big dinner party this was, I'll never forget it, it was so much fun to me; he was introducing his daughter and his son-in-law to his work people. I mean I guess they were other big wheels, I don't know because he thought I was a guy. I weighed probably maybe 105, 10 pounds,and I used to look a little different, you know much younger, I was real thin. He had this big dinner party. I didn't say much but every now and then I'd have to say something and you know he was just running around.
Betsy Kalin: [00:54:00] Well go back, can you go back a little bit? So you applied to get-
Donna Burkett: [00:54:30] Oh yeah, that's right, we sure did. I forgot all about that, that's how that stuff started. When we went down to the courthouse or was it City Hall? We went down to one of those places to apply to get married. We was going to get married because that was what we were supposed to do when you want to get married, first you get the license and then you go get married. We went down there big dummies, we went down there to apply for our license and we did-
Donna Burkett: [00:55:00] We went down to the courthouse to apply for our license because when you get married first you get a license then you go get married. So we went down there. I don't know where they came from but when we fill out the little card, whatever the little sheet of paper was. You know, you got your name, your address, sex, birthdate, all that kind of stuff. We filled it out, turned it in. Then the lady at the counter she went and, " Oh, my God." Then she walked off and she went and got somebody else and then they came over, right? Then they said, "Is this informational correct?" "Yeah, it's right. You don't think I know my name?" "Romeo," She said, "Yes, that's right." Then they went in some backroom and then somebody they came back out and they said, "You can't get married."
[00:56:00] You can't get, no. She said, "We can't give you a license." I'm like, "Why? We both old enough. We're over 18." Or if it was 21, I don't remember what the age thing was, then they keep going back and forth from 18 to 21, so whatever it was we were over that. Then we left and when we got out in the hallway to get in our car to go home than that's when all these reporters came. That's how they found out. They came and they was just snapping them pictures and then they start asking us a whole bunch of questions. I'm like, I look at them, I said, "Where are these people coming from? What is the big deal?" I didn't get it, I didn't understand. I really did not get it. That's how it took off, that's how the press got involved. Them people at the courthouse must have called they buddies or something. I don't know what they did but that's how it took off. They caught us right in the hallway and when we got outside they caught us, Then from then on, it was just people ...
[00:57:30] Some of our friends didn't even want to be around us no more. They said they didn't want their picture, and their name, and their jobs. This was a horrible place to be and be gay, back then, it really was. As Luther say, "It's over now." Yeah, so thank everybody for continuing the fight
Donna Burkett: [00:58:00] Then we were turned down and then, then I remember I don't know exactly the order of things. I don't remember, which came first but I know she got kicked out of school, they called me, the Dean called me at MATC or MIT and told me they was kicking me out of school and I said, "For what?" They said, "Because of your attendance." I said, "My attendance? Well, if I'm not, never here how do I know that you wanted me in your office? How you talking to me now?" But she got kicked out of school. I almost got kicked out of school, didn't make me any difference because she was going to UW, I was just going to the two year school.
[00:59:00] I got some kind of little job. We had a rough time. We moved in with a couple guy friends until we could get back on our feet. I don't really remember a whole lot of stuff but I know it was rough though because even some of our friends started turning their backs on us. We wasn't asking for nothing, they didn't want to be around us because it seemed like every time we'd go somewhere then somebody from a newspaper wanting to pop up and take pictures and people, it was real bad. We'd go to funeral and then when the buses, the city buses go pass people, our friends talking about start running hiding behind trees talking about because they were bus drivers they didn't want nobody to see them. It was really bad here then. It really was because people really afraid to come out. I'm just so glad that stuff is not like that anymore. They talking about suicide, suicide would be crazy now, you know if it was still like that so I'm glad people change their thinking.
Donna Burkett: [01:00:00] No, I didn't. Doing something that you feel is natural, something that you feel you got the right to do. You do something and then it blows up some years later that you done did something great because you followed what you thought was right. It wasn't nothing great for neither one of us because that's what we thought we was supposed to do. We call ourselves out on the rules by going down and getting a license because that's the first step, you know? But anyways, so ...
Betsy Kalin: [01:01:00] Why don't you tell me, now you did end up getting married.
Donna Burkett: [01:01:30] We had a ceremony. Yeah, we did. I don't think either one of us really realized what it really meant to be married. I really, honestly don't think either one of us know. Well I don't know what happened to her but I know soon after, all of a sudden somebody told me she was in Alaska. I believe that was her daddy. I put everything on him because he was such... I'm glad I wasn't none of his daughters. Thank you Lord. We, I probably wouldn't even be here now because we probably would have been at it. He was just such a head. He was such a mess.
Betsy Kalin: [01:02:00] Who married you and Manonia in the ceremony?
Donna Burkett: [01:02:30] Oh, I tell you Father Joseph Feldhausen, he married us. He married us. He was an Episcopal Priest. We had to go through, I forget how many months of counseling. We have to come to these meetings and that's about all. I don't remember what was going on with him, but I remember he told us we had to do this in order to get married. We went to these meetings, and he was always there. He was always there. We were free to talk to him about anything but we didn't tell him about her daddy. We just went on and made it the best we could make it, you know? We had a ceremony and then we had a reception. Still wasn't a lot of our friends there. They didn't want to come because they thought the newspapers were going to be there, but GPU was still with us. Yeah.
Donna Burkett: [01:04:00] Not many people, mostly my family. They came in from Chicago, and the few that lived here. My family was here. We had a few friends but mostly everybody stayed away because they were afraid of the publicity.
[01:04:30] After that like I said I don't remember how long we were together because all I remember is that she started missing being not ... She lost her job. I remember that she worked at a bank, she was a bank teller. That's what she, she did that all the time, and she wasgoing to school part-time. She lost her job. I remember her daddy had gave her the car and he took that and we didn't know where the car was. We got ready to go somewhere and there wasn't no car out there. I believe he sent her off somewhere, I heard a friend of mine had told me a couple years later that she was in Alaska. I see why, he don't have to worry about me trying to get there. I haven't seen her since maybe about a year after, maybe we stayed together maybe about a year. It got really rough, but she was all for it then, she's different now.
[01:05:30] I was going through the obituaries, I see this guy's name in there, and I thought of her. It was her father. Because as I read the obituary I saw her first name but she's married now, to a guy. I imagine they probably got kids, and I don't know where they live, but her last name was different so, but that was her daddy. I started to go to the... And sit in the back of the church or something because it was inside a church. I knew that was her father because I saw her name and then I know her brother's name. I saw their name listed in the paper. I said, "Nah, you know that wouldn't be good for me to do that because she got a whole different life now and you know that was 30, 40 years ago so. I haven't seen her," I said, "I ain't trying to wreck nothing for anyone." So, I didn't go. They probably wouldn't have recognized me anyway. I done gained all this weight, so they probably wouldn't know. It didn't matter, I didn't go.
Donna Burkett: [01:07:00] Yeah. Yeah, it was good, we were good. We did the best we could do, but things kept falling apart. We didn't have any money, she got fired. She had a good, her job paid good but I guess the little things, I didn't have a good paying job, I worked in factories. They didn't pay that well and they were all ... It wasn't none of them had a future. Minimum wage or a little above it, it wasn't nothing much. It was enough. It kind of kept us together for a while. It fed us, we never went hungry. We always had a roof over our head thanks to friends and the few friends that did stick by us. These two guys, they really stuck by us.
[01:08:00] I had some charge cards, and we used to go to the store and charge up our food on that, get food and bring it home to cook. We'd do, we made, buy stuff on the card and take it back and get the money to pay the rent. You know that kind of, we made it the best we could but I guess it was really just too much. We weren't strong enough together to fight through that, and whatever. It just wasn't meant to be then.
[01:09:00] We did what we could do and that's with everything now and with everybody you do what you can do when you can do it. When that time is up when that season has passed, yep, you did it. Now you can't do it anymore. You just keep on to the next plateau or the next storm or whatever you want to call it. You keep onto the next, there's always going to be something in your life until they shove the dirt in your face that you can do and then that will pass, so nothing's permanent. You might find a relationship and you last a long time but then one day somebody's going to go home, so nothing's permanent not here on this earth so. You do what you can do, and you try to be the best that you can be. You treat people right, and you'll be okay. I mean you're going to have some rough times but you'll be okay. Your heart will be good. You just got to treat people right, that's it.
[01:10:00] You can't be trying to put your convictions or your... You can't live your life through somebody else. You can't be putting stuff on other people that you can't do yourself. You shouldn't be trying to change, because nobody can change anybody anyway. You can't even hardly change yourself so just... My friend used to tell me when I was real young, "Ain't you tired of ramming your head against that wall yet?" I be saying, "Nah, but when I get tired I guess I'll find me another wall or I will stop," and that's the way it is.
Betsy Kalin: [01:10:30] Did you ever think that it would take this long to get marriage, same sex marriage?
Donna Burkett: [01:11:00] Oh, I never thought it would happen to be honest. I never thought it would happen. After I got older and I started hearing how people felt, how they really felt and how they ostracized gay people. Even to this day I never thought it would happen. I'll tell ya when Obama said, no, when Clinton said something about, "Don't ask. Don't tell." I'm like, "He done crack the door open. He done crack the door. He done crack it. He done made it crack. Oh now, it's getting ready to blow up now." Yeah, that's what I said. Yeah, Clinton the one who said that, " Don't ask. Don't tell." I said, "Boy, you should have went the whole way and did it." Sometimes you just gotta take itty bitty baby steps. You just can't shh open the door all the way. You gotta take baby steps and somebody else open it a little further, that's when Obama came and opened it a little further.
[01:12:00] Now, we not going there, somebody trying to shut the door now. So we're not going back. That's the one thing, once it's opened it's not going back. We're not going back to the cornfields or the cotton fields or whatever field you came from, you're not going back there. You out here, you're out and you're gonna stay out. I don't think nobody once they got out and tasted freedom that they gonna go back into the closet. I just don't see that happening and I don't see people standing for it so.
Donna Burkett: [01:12:30] I don't know what, I forgot it. I don't know but-
Donna Burkett: [01:13:00] No, we're not going back in the closet. I mean see you be in, you been in that closet and it doesn't have to necessarily be a gay closet, but everyone got crap in the closet. Once you come out, whatever your thing is, once you come out you're not going back because the freedom that you feel now is out there, can't nobody hang, got nothing to hang over my head. They can't blackmail me. They can't, "If you don't do this then I'm..." Once you're out, you're out. Nobody goes back in. Once you, nobody goes back to jail. I mean nobody goes back to being tortured and they realize how it good. They're not going back in there.
[01:13:30] That's how when you get these little puppies, okay? These little dogs, and you have your little dog house, or you keep them in the house. You take your animal out, and they run like their crazy because the freedom that they feel. They ain't, now you try to get them back. It's hard to get them dogs back and taking them back when you get them to the doorway they get to pulling, and you got to almost choke them to get the back in the house. Their freedom that you feel once you're free, you just not giving that up.
[01:14:30] That's what I thought America was about because freedom, freedom, free-dom. Not being in no closet. Gotta hide the way you feel, and you ain't even hurting nobody. That's the biggest thing about this. It's so stupid to me. I don't get it. It's not for everybody. What they say? It's only like 10% of the people that's gay, you know? That's not going to stop the population because 10%, you got 90% having babies. They having so many babies we got to take care of them. They can't even take care of them. Then you got 10% of the people that ain't having none. My goodness, so what else is it?
[01:15:00] I mean it ain't for everybody. I mean if everybody was gay, so what? That's your personal choice. That ain't got nothing to do with you, Sally Jo, or you Ray Charles. It ain't got nothing to do with nobody but you. That's all. Just let people be happy doing what they want to do as long as they ain't hurting nobody. Who they hurting? You got two consenting adults. I ain't talking about kids now. We'll get into that at a later time, if you gay it's not something you can change anyway. There are a lot of gay kids and that's how we started out. We started out as kids.
Betsy Kalin: [01:16:00] I have a question for you. Okay. Can you tell me what it I was like when, to be gay like in the early days? I think at one point you had mentioned that if everybody was gay and that you were all together and everybody wasn't separated.
Donna Burkett: [01:16:30] With the gay bars, okay, it was just a gay bar. Everybody went to it, it wasn't... Then it started breaking up to guy bars, lesbians start coming in. When I first heard it, "What the hell is that?" You know everybody was just gay. Then it started being, then it started breaking off into guy bars, and then the Queen bars, the Butch bars. I'm like, "My goodness." That's the way of separation. I just, I don't know. I just really think that we can all live together. I really do think that.
[01:17:30] I don't like to be only, I don't like being just in this little group right here. I might want to go check out this group out, you know? I mean how you going to grow if all you do is knowing what's there, around you all the... If you just stay in the same place all the time? How you gonna grow? How you gonna learn anything about anybody? I mean if we're gonna make it as a people we need to get to know every, all of... I mean all these little groups we need to know straight, gay, black, white, Mexican, purple, orange, whatever color you are. We all need to learn a little about everybody if acceptance is ever gonna...
Donna Burkett: [01:18:30] Well, no I wasn't any, I was just doing what I felt needed to be done at that time. I didn't call myself anything, just Donna. Well, they gave me a lot of names, Dynamite, insane. Now you think I'm a lot of things, I mean I had a lot of little nicknames but I only did what I thought I was supposed to do.
[01:19:00] I joined the service because my intentions when I went in was two-fold: I wanted to see the world, and I wanted to fight for my country, for my loved ones. Everybody I knew lives in the United States, my family, my friends; I wanted to go fight. I didn't want to... I did fight in Alabama, but that wasn't the fight I was looking for but that's the one I got, so I did that one. I appreciate these women that's going over to the battlegrounds, the battlefields because when I was in the military they just, the only women that went to a war zone were in the medical field, nurses. A few of them and army brats like if your daddy, your great, grandfather your great, great all of that you got a whole line of people in the marines then you kind of had a little clout even as a private or a lieutenant. Whichever way you went, enlisted or anyway. Then you could kind of command a little something.
[01:20:30] Now if women want to go into artillery, if they want to go fight, for me I like that idea because it's still you got a choice. It ain't like they throw, like with the guys they don't have a choice. A lot of times when they did some of them ran off to Canada and all of that, but they didn't really have a choice. If they were a guy they got drafted after a certain age when they get to what was it 18, or something like that? Then you had to go when they call your number, bam you was off.
[01:21:30] Women didn't have that because at that time we were supposed to be barefoot and pregnant. I mean that was the mentality of the United States back in the day. Women had nothing to say, they had no rights. We had to fight for the right to vote. You know how hard that was? Men didn't want women, you know? Now we fighting, we still fighting. We gonna always be fighting. We have a fighting spirit, this world. This United States was built on a fight. It really was, it was built on a fight and we gonna be fighting.
Donna Burkett: [01:22:00] Right. Right because I always felt that was your own personal choice and ain't nobody got any business. I know I'm using double negatives and all that, but just to break it down. It was not and I still don't feel like it’s nobody's business who you can love, who you love. Ain't nobody got nothing to say about that but the person that you do love. That's the only person and all I can say is, "Don't love me." But if you love somebody that's from the heart. Can't nobody change that.Ain't nobody outside and no government? Oh my goodness, they got enough business to be thinking about trying to get personal with people. Well anyways, they ain't got no business telling you that. They never have and they never will have, as far as I'm concerned.
Donna Burkett: [01:23:00] Action Wisconsin was another gay group in the late 60's, early middle 70's. I'm trying to remember the mission. I can't remember the mission but they were more like I think a political gay group, I believe. I can't remember that was a very long time ago. They were based in Madison Wisconsin. Action Wisconsin was based in Madison.
[01:24:00] I don't know if I should say, yeah, I can say this. We had a meeting because there was a chapter here in Milwaukee. We had a meeting in Madison, I went up there and then that's when I met our now Senator Tammy Baldwin. She had just got out of college and she ages so gracefully. She still looks so much like she did 40, 50 years ago when I first met here. She's still fighting, you know? All this crap, I'm getting political, all this crap that's out here about that she did the Vets wrong-
Donna Burkett: [01:24:30] Yeah, it was loud. That's a bunch of crap because she has been ... There it go again and I don't even have my windows open.
Donna Burkett: [01:25:00] Oh, I didn't. I had a mouth. I didn't. I didn't, but it was going on. See I'm gonna tell you something else they used to do.
Donna Burkett: [01:25:30] I did not face police harassment as a gay or black person here in Milwaukee but it was going on. Well, that one time, no, that was Open Housing when they ... But anyway, what the police used to do, they used to do a few things to the gay people here. All right, at the gay bars when we started having more than one gay bar, the police used to drive around the bar, write down the license plates numbers of the cars that were parked there, go back to the station. Check them out. If they were married they would call their wife and tell them, "Do you know your car is parked down here by this gay bar?" They were so rotten the police here that was under Breirer. Now that I do remember because I was in all of that, I was against all of that but they used to do that. Like I said before, the guys, the gay men, the Queens could not come out and drag only on Halloween because if they caught them out-
Donna Burkett: [01:27:00] Yeah, they're getting ready because it must be getting dark. I mean it's getting, maybe they getting ready to go down to this carnival but wait until they start. I call it farting when them bikes you know, "Putt, putt, putt," when they raising them.
Donna Burkett: [01:27:30] Yeah, the gay men here could not come out in drag but on one day a year and be open, and that was Halloween. When they caught them on other nights, they haul them down to the jail. They get their one phone call and they would call GPU. GPU would get on the line and call all the people on their list. Tell them what time the court date is for the Disorderly Conduct, that's what they used to book them on under, Disorderly Conduct. We would pack the courthouse, court room, and we'd be loud. Boy, the judge would get mad, "Get out of here all of y'all," and they'd dismiss the charges.
Betsy Kalin: [01:28:00] That's great .
Donna Burkett: [01:28:30] Oh, LOC? LOC was a small group and it was, it was a nice organization, group. It was mostly a social organization, it wasn't... We weren't political. Just had parties and get fellowship. Get together and dance, laugh, talk, few drinks, you know? That was it. That's all I knew.
Donna Burkett: [01:29:00] No, it had to be, it had to be in the '70's or the 80's. I'm not really sure anymore. It's been a long time ago.
Betsy Kalin: [01:29:30] Tell us about DJing and your love of music and DJing.
Donna Burkett: [01:30:00] Well, I started, I never called it DJing. See I used to, I always have love music. At the time when I used to make the tapes for my car. They used to always have to be a pause in between from one song to the next song. I had to, I wanted to figure out how to make the tape continue when I'm changing the record and putting the next song on. Then I found out that I needed a mixer. I went, and I bought a mixer. Then I had to buy two turntables. Anyway, I started at home just so I can have my music just to play through without any pauses. You change a song and you take two or three seconds or whatever it take so then after I ...
[01:31:00] Then this guy, a friend of mine, and he's still my friend. This was way back too. He told me, he asked me, he said because I used to always have a lot of people over at, to my house and play music, and dance, and drink, and play cards, or whatever. They used to call me Dynamite at that time. He said, "Dynamite, why don't you... I want to have a birthday party at the bar at Tina's. Why don't you come and play the music?" I said, "All right." He said, "You got it all." I said, "Well, I don't." He said, I said, "I don't do that out." He said, "I'll help you load your stuff up. We'll bring it down there and set it up."
[01:32:00] They sat me up in the window at the bar and that's how it started. Then it grew and people started liking the music, and I started buying music. I started, well, I was always buying it, but I started loading it in my car, throwing it the trunk, them crates of albums. Ooh, that stuff was heavy. Some of the bars, I'd have to go like a day or two before I'm gonna play down there and string the wire for the speakers, so it don't be all over the floor like I did at home you and put them running up through the ceiling through, they had those false ceilings. I'd have to get a ladder and throw it this far and then go get the speaker wire until it get long enough from the DJ booth, so used to do that. Hook all the stuff up and that's how I got started. I never thought of it as DJing, I just really thought of it as playing music because that's what I used to love to do; played it all the time. That's how I got started.
[01:33:00] I got a huge selection of music. Have lots of albums stored all around in my living room in crates still. I got my little storage locker full of albums. I always say that one day I'm going to find them and go through them and stuff and start pulling out those 12 inches and turn them into CDs because even though a lot of them music is online now and on CD, you can't find a lot of those mixes that they have on them 12 inches. I got a lot of them. I'm just too lazy to do the work to put them on a CD, but I don't have the equipment to mix them like I used to do in the bar.
[01:34:00] In the bar I had gotten so good. I could hear the music, I knew the songs so well, when it's gonna go just maybe a little part like y'all hear in those planes, and buzzers, I can know when it's coming in. I can increase that if it's bass, or a treble, or whatever it is. Just make it be real, I mean, yeah, but I don't have that kind of equipment anymore. Since I've had the stroke I don't, I'm not, see I'm not into the newer music. Since I've had the stroke only one hand really works for me really well. I couldn't do it now, you know? I couldn't be on time with it. I have a friend, and she showed me the new equipment but that stuff is so expensive. Of course the old stuff is really expensive. I just don't have the longing in my heart to do that anymore.
Donna Burkett: [01:35:30] Yeah. Yeah.
Donna Burkett: [01:36:00] Yes, I Dj'd in gay bars. I did a few straight bars too, you know? But I didn't have as much freedom to play the music in the straight bars. Actually gay people and straight people play different music; what straight people used to play in the bars, we used to call it radio music, that's what we used to call it. We had our own music, we had our own music. Some of the straight bars that I played in I'd play a record or song or two but if I don't get a response and it's a feeling response. If I don't get the response then I don't play that type of music and it's mostly house. It was house music that we mostly played in the gay bars.
[01:37:00] We played, I played all kinds of music and then they gave me in the gay bars they gave me Sundays because I used to like to settle the people down. Like they done danced the whole weekend, settle down, and talk to your neighbor sitting next to you. Get to, listen to some Sade or... Come on, what's her name?
Donna Burkett: [01:37:30] No. Uh-huh. Anita Baker. You know? Kind of some like that I play Tony wasn't really out. I mean she was out but ... Those other, I don't know. I found that they liked the slow songs too. They liked them quite a bit. The guys did too. They started hollering out, "Dynamite play that, that, that... Dynamite play that, that that... Play this." They go through my records and they said, "Play this. Play this." Go ahead, whatever because that's what spinning records is all about, the people. A lot of DJ's won't play when you ask them to play something, they won't play it. That's to me, for me, it was about the people that's in the bars that's what they want to hear so that's what you play. That's the way I was so.
Betsy Kalin: [01:38:30] Well stand up and-
Donna Burkett: [01:39:00] Nah, uh-huh, I wasn't the first black. There was some blacks when I got there.
Donna Burkett: [01:39:30] It was AC Spark Plugs. We made the catalytic converters for the General Motors cars and the Japanese cars, we did. I did every phase of it from the putting the basic converter together from the beginning all the way until it gets shipped out the building.
Donna Burkett: [01:40:00] Oh yeah, there was a lot of women out there. I was the only woman on my line at one time. I worked with these, we called ourself, "The Reject Line," because every last one of us on that line, all of us had problems working with the supervisors or the people that we had in the previous years. In some kind of way, we all ended up together and we were the best working line out there. We were so good. We used to get our production done like on Thursday and then we'd leave early on Friday. Our supervisor used to punch us out because all they cared about was we get the count, the numbers out by Friday. We didn't have no complaints, we didn't run telling people, we didn't squabble; we just worked good together. If somebody wanted to go to bathroom and stay for a half hour somebody else just covered for him.
[01:41:30] We got the work done, that was it. Did every phase of the operation from putting a convertor actually together and putting the catalyst in it, God, I'm trying to think of that stuff that used to make everybody sneeze and itch. I can't remember all that stuff to welding them up, packing them up in the baskets, and labeling them. Throwing them, getting them out the door. We did every phase, ain't not one phase that ...
Betsy Kalin: [01:42:00] Let me ask you another question too. You got an award from the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center.
Donna Burkett: [01:42:30] No, it wasn't that. I'd know it if I heard it, but see that little blue thing right-
Betsy Kalin: [01:43:00] Okay, let me come back and just say that it was the LGBT Center Vanguard Award.
Donna Burkett: [01:43:30] The award was, it was ... The first I heard about it was when the, it was a gay something getting ready to come up on the calendar. When the newspaper came out to do a new interview, they are the ones who told me that they were going to be giving me an award. It's in that ... Where is that clipping? It's in that clipping. It was a really nice function, it was at Potawatomi. In one of the, I forgot the name of that room but it was a really elegant, a big chandelier. It was really nice. I had a table up front with the County Exec Chris Abele. There was about four people at the table. It was really nice.
[01:45:00] They were doing an auction. There was some big money people around me because I remember, I remember a guy behind me at a different table. I remember he bid or donated, I don't remember, which one, $30 grand, and I had about 50 cents in my pocket. Abele, about three or four times, he donated or bid five grand. I'm like, they had all of this wine on the table, all these different types of wine, but I really don't care for wine. I tasted all of them, but I didn't like any of them. The wine I like was the... They didn't have, that's the cheap wine, but anyway. It was really nice. They had a speaker, they had a skit. It was really nice, it was fabulous. It was a lot of money to get in there, I think it was $125 a plate. It was a dinner, it was a dinner. Yes, it was. One of my friends said that they didn’t go because they didn't go because they didn't have that kind of money to spend. It was really a nice affair.
Donna Burkett: [01:46:30] They gave me an award because of this gay thing that was coming up. See my brain don't really... They gave it to me because they said it was something about to be a gay coming out day or something we had. Something I can't really remember what it was, and they dredged up the story from 50 years ago, the marriage thing.
Donna Burkett: [01:47:00] That's it. [crosstalk 01:46:49]. That's it, that's it. Yep, when it finally passed then they was asking me, "Did I ever think that it was going to take this long?" That was it. That's what it was. I know it was something, but I just can't remember all that stuff anymore. Yep, and they gave me that for what I did. I told them then, "What I did then was nothing that I ever thought would be a big deal because it was so dogged then." I mean it was such ... I never said, "Okay, well let's go. We go do this so we'll be important later on." I never thought anything of it, once it was over, it was dead. Then here we go 50 years later, then they bringing it up again. Now, it's a really big deal. See other people kept it going. See if you do something from the heart this is a belief of mine, but if you do something from the heart and it's a right thing, it's a good thing, then maybe nobody else can do that.
[01:48:30] You know like with the Wright brothers and the airplane, okay? Somebody will pick it up and they'll keep going and keep going and keep improving on it, and keep it going and keep it going, until it's there. That's the way to me, so I shouldn't have gotten an award. Everybody that is gay should have been getting an award because just like I forgot it, it would have been forgotten had not somebody else kept it going. You know gay pride, you know the gay parade. You know all the people that put that stuff together and participate. All of that stuff keeps it going till we get what we want. That's the way I look at it, I just think everybody should be getting a pat on the back, I really do. Because if it had stopped with me it would have gone dead a long time ago, because my remembrance is very not good. That's just a little step and then somebody else come and take a little more step. Then somebody else come take a little more step.
[01:50:00] Then look we got whole thing done, that's people working together. That's what this country is about; people working together, all different kinds of people from all different walks of life. Everybody need to pat themself on the back that they kept it going and that they will keep it going. Yeah, so.
Donna Burkett: [01:50:30] If a young person came to me and say should they come out? I would have to tell them that's up to them because see I can't make that decision for you. I don't know your circumstances, I don't know if you're serious or if you're doing it for a fad, or if you want to hurt somebody. I can't make that... That's up to you, but if you feel like you want everybody to know, then come out. Come on out, you know? You'll feel so much better after you done it. But if you don't feel it, if you feel you need some support then I would say that you to, I'll send them to the Community Center where they can get... They have support for young people, old people, any people if coming out is your issue.
[01:52:00] If you've got a little secret and it's really on our brain and you steady keep it, and you steady keep it. When you explode, and you let it go. No matter who you take, maybe you have to take little bitty steps. Maybe you want to come out to one person? Maybe, I don't know how you do it. You do what's on your heart because you the one that gotta live through it, not me. I can't live your life, you know? I couldn't tell anybody what to do about anything. That's not my place to do that, that's your place. You give it to some thought. You make the decision so when, if the stuff would backfire, don't come looking for me.
[01:53:00] Not that I'm trying to be safe, it's just that it's not... I can't live your life. I mean seriously though, I can't live anybody's life. I'm barely making it in my own. You have to do what feels good to you and for you. Peter and Paul and Mary cannot tell you what you should do in your life, they can only say what I should do. If we all clean up our own lives this world would be a whole lot better for everybody, you know ?
Betsy Kalin: [01:53:30] But that's okay. Okay, the next one is, what is your hope for the future?
Donna Burkett: [01:54:00] Well, my hope for the future is that we can all learn inside, each one of us can learn inside of ourselves to accept other people with differences. That's not just gay and straight, black and white and purple people: people with disabilities, people with mental illnesses. I mean we are all different and everybody wants to make sure Tom is like what we want Tom to be. That contributes to Tom's disability, because Tom be trying to get what he don't know; he don't know what I want, you know? I'm just saying we learning, we need to learn how to accept people as they are, you know? Maybe we can do a little critiquing every now and then but that's my hope for the future that we can accept each other. If we can learn to do that and we don't start out by doing the whole world, we just keep it close, you know? Maybe have a friend down the street that really irritates me and gets on my nerve, maybe I try to have a little more patience with them and try to understand. That's all I'm saying, that's my hope for the future.
Donna Burkett: [01:55:30] A lot of people think they the only ones going through something. When you find out that, "Wow, that happened to that person? Wow. They done got over it. I can probably get past it too." That's what I think, that's what I'm hoping for that maybe I can help somebody deal with some kind of mental illness like I got and they can get past it. I'm not making jokes at it, but I am making a joke because laughter. Laugher, we all so serious, especially these young people they are so serious about... They take everything so personal. That's why they running around shooting, and stealing cars, and hurting people, because they take everything so personal. Laughter, have a... Laugh at yourself sometimes. So what if you've got missing teeth? So what if you wear glasses? So what if you can't see? So what? Just loosen up, unwind. Don't think everybody got to be perfect. There are no perfect people in this world. I forgot the question.
Betsy Kalin: [01:57:00] You can. This last question is, why is OUTWORDS important? If you could use OUTWORDS in your answer, that would be great.
Donna Burkett: [01:57:30] Is it clear? Okay. OUTWORDS and that's not outwards, it's OUTWORDS. It's important because they are going around getting stories from a whole lot of different people. When I say different, I mean different cultures, people with different ideas, different feelings, different hopes, dreams, different backgrounds, and putting it out there. OUT there, so when other people see and hear the difficulties on the storms that some people have been, are going through, or have been through, that will help somebody else that's what the deal is. They're trying to help people, it don't matter what your sexual preference is, it doesn't matter what your race is, it doesn't matter how much schooling you have had, it doesn't matter about your education, it doesn't matter about your job, it doesn't matter that you're rich, it doesn't matter that you're poor. What matters is that we all need help and that's who they're trying to reach, other people and everybody needs help. OUTWORDS, words, W-O-R-D-S. As far as I'm concerned, it's a great organization. That's my answer to you all.
Betsy Kalin: [01:59:30] Say your partner's name too, because I think you only said it once.
Donna Burkett: [02:00:00] Okay. Well, at the time that I tried to get, not I, we, me Donna Burkett, and Manonia Evans, at the time that we tried to get married... excuse me, having a senior moment. Thought left. I forgot the question.
Donna Burkett: [02:00:30] Oh, yes, right. Okay. Yeah, so at the time in 1971 when Manonia Evans and me, myself, Donna Burkett. When we tried to get married, as far as my knowledge is we were the first couple to go to try to go the legal route to get married. Get your marriage license first and then you get married. As far as I know, we were the first couple in the United States. In fact, I'll venture out to say that as far as I know we were the first people in the world to try to legally get married and were turned down. I know of no other couple that tried to do that. No other. We didn't do it for recognition because we didn't know that we couldn't do it. Okay.
Natalie Tsui: [02:01:30] Next question. The next question I have is, you, I just... Hearing your story, you're such a resilient person. I think you've undergone so much, I don't know, so much discrimination but you've also maintained hope. What is your advice to young people that need to be resilient or maintain hope?
Donna Burkett: [02:02:00] If you don't have hope, no matter what age you are, you only can get hope from one place in my opinion and that is from God. Not from people, but from God. God will give you hope, God created you. God created me, and he created everything else. If you need hope, you need to go to God in your own way and ask him to fill you with his hope. That's for anybody. I don't care what your religion is.
Natalie Tsui: [02:03:00] I think just to expand on that a little bit. Listening to your story, you faced people calling you names when you were a kid, you faced moving out of your house when you were young, you faced going to get a marriage license and having this whole media circus around you and losing your jobs and eventually losing your partner. What is it in you that makes you, besides having faith in God, but what is it that makes you so determined and so powerful to face all of these challenges?
Donna Burkett: [02:03:30] Well again, I can't say besides God because he put it all in me. Even when I didn't know, when I look back on my life it had my hope, my strength. It had to come from somewhere. I have strong parents. Well, I know my mother, I never knew my father, but my mother is strong. My grandfather is strong, my sister is strong,her children are strong. We're just strong and that's the only thing I can think of even if I didn't know about God, he still made me strong. Since I feel like can't nobody, I have to say it like this, can't nobody turn me around. What I think, my mamma used to always tell me, "You so hard headed. Girl, a hard head is gonna make a soft beep." It is because if you believe in something and see that's the thing you gotta believe.
[02:04:30] You gotta believe in something. If you don't believe in nothing then you just gonna fizzle on out because you have nothing inside to push you to do something. You're gonna fizzle out. So you better get something that you really and truly believe in and that will give you hope, that will give you strength that you will give you love. That's what, now everybody can believe, I know everybody believe in love. You can call God whatever you want. You can call him love, you can call him whatever you want, but you gotta believe in something. Love is a beautiful thing to believe in. I'm not just talking about physical love, you got to get the love here and get it there. You're good to go.
Donna Burkett: [02:05:30] Yes. Yes. You've got to have, you cannot make it in this world. You just can't, you can't make it in this world without strength, without hope, and the most powerful is love. You gotta have love. You gotta have it. If you go around hating everybody and everything just forget it. Forget it. As long as you're carrying that, you don't have room for anything good to come to you because you're carrying around so much garbage. You gotta have love, you really do have to have love. With love come all the rest of the things you need. Strength, hope, endurance, it all comes, but first you gotta have love. That's the greatest gift of all. You know a couple artists even said it, Whitney Houston, George Benson, a whole lot of people say, "You gotta have love, and the love of yourself is the greatest love of all." You know it's just so beautiful. I ain't talking about all that sex stuff. I'm talking about love, there's a difference. I got love.
Donna Burkett: [02:07:00] Oh, man. I really don't know. I got so many of it. I know it used to be, at one time my favorite song used to be, "Easy," and "Zoom." If you take things kind of easy going, you don't put a lot of unnecessary stress on yourself. Stress is a killer, it done kill so many people. It leads to heart attacks, it leads to everything. It leads to the crazy house. It leads to everything, but if you just take an easy going attitude and you get that from love. If you look hard enough you could look at your worst enemy and find something inside of them that you can love. You really can. But first you better learn to love yourself because if you don't love yourself you can't love, but then you don't know what love is. You got to learn to love yourself, accept yourself. Then you can look at somebody else and say, "Well, okay, I had you figured wrong." I know we all done did that and said and looked at somebody and said, "Okay, maybe you that ain't as bad as I thought you was, so maybe I'll try again."
[02:08:30] Keep that love in your heart. Who was, who was that singing, "Put a little love in your heart?" Who sang that song? That's an old song. Oh, I can't even think of it. Who sang that song?
[02:09:00] People been singing about love forever. It's gotta be something to it. Nobody sings about hate. Nobody that I know. Maybe some of these rappers might do it because I don't know what they be talking about. I don't know what they be singing anyway, but people be singing about love forever in every genre of music, they sing about love. Even when they playing the violin, they playing with love. You can just feel it. You can feel it, music is such a universal language. A good thing to love, you can start with loving your music.
Donna Burkett: [02:09:30] No. Nah, I can't think of anything. I'll probably wake up in the middle of the night and say, "You know what?" Yeah, but no, I can't think of anything.